Thursday, 5 January 2017

A Phantom Plane Crash

At about midday on Thursday, 31 October 1935, Mr A Moore, of Hillside, the Rock, Newcastle, County Down, was at home when he spotted an aeroplane flying towards the coastal town from the direction of St John’s Point. He pointed it out to his daughter. And as they watched together, it crashed into the sea.
According to the Northern Whig: “Suddenly it quivered twice, rose, and turned towards Newcastle as though the pilot was seeking to gain height to reach land, and then abruptly nose-dived into the gale-lashed waters.”
Mr Moore called out to his son. They examined the sea through binoculars, but could not see the aeroplane. Mr Moore then contacted the police.
The police contacted Killough coastguard station, as it was closest to where the plane appeared to have crashed, who contacted St John’s Lighthouse; but they hadn’t seen the crash. Eventually, the volunteer-in-charge at Newcastle coastguard station was contacted. He ordered out the lifeboat.
According to the volunteer-in-charge: “It was out for more than five hours, returning at 6:20pm. Not the least sign of any wreckage or anything else was found.”
Despite a gale and heavy seas, the lifeboat was aided in its search by two Scottish fishing boats. And though they searched until it was dark, they too found nothing.
Mr Moore and his children weren’t the only witnesses to the crash. According to an account received by Killough coastguard station, the plane appeared to have come from Belfast, and passed within a few miles of their station. However, no one at the station saw or heard it.
It was the same at St John’s Lighthouse. No one there saw or heard the plane, despite two of the crew being at the top of the lighthouse cleaning the windows at the time of the crash.
In some accounts, the witnesses reported seeing smoke and flames before the plane crashed.
Unfortunately, there’s no record of where these other witnesses were positioned. When a coastguard made house-to-house enquiries along the shore, from St John’s Point to Ballykinlar, no one recalled seeing or hearing the plane – or the crash.
The day after the crash, an aerial search was carried out. Nothing was found. And a police investigation found there were no missing aircraft.
It would be easy to dismiss this as a simple case of misidentification, but there were a number of eerily similar incidents in the 1930s.
At 3:40pm on Wednesday, 10 June 1931, the sound of a struggling aeroplane engine drew the attention of holidaymakers in Poole, Dorset. After it had their attention, it crashed into the sea. A number of witnesses reported the incident to the harbour master, who later said: “All the eye-witnesses were positive that the machine actually entered the sea. I at once went by speed boat to the spot they indicated, and searched a wide area. I only abandoned the attempt to trace the ‘plane when the heavy seas began to swamp the boat. I found no wreckage at all. The machine was a two-seater biplane, and was meeting with very heavy weather when it was seen from the beach.” Following the search, the aerodromes were contacted; but no aircraft were missing.
 At 2:30pm on Wednesday, 14 October 1936, two men reported seeing an aeroplane dive into the North Sea, about 1 ½ miles from the village of Lybster, in Caithness, Scotland. A search of the area was carried out by boat, but no wreckage or evidence of a crash was found. As well as the sea search, Wick coastguards contacted the Scottish aerodromes, but all of their aircraft were accounted for.
On 29 October 1937, a Brighton publican watched as an aeroplane in flames dived into the sea, about three miles south of the Palace Pier, and disappeared “in a cloud of smoke.” He took a boat to where he believed the plane entered the water. He did find an oil patch. Subsequent checks by Shoreham Airport failed to find any missing aircraft.
An incident on Thursday, 15 September 1932, was a little stranger. The crew of the St Nicholas Lightship, based off Lowestoft, Sussex, saw a plane come down in the North Sea. According to the master of the lightship, the plane sat on the water for a time with its engines running before it exploded. The explosion was followed by the appearance of two white lights.
A lifeboat and a number of tugs arrived and carried out a search of the area, but nothing was found. Needless to say, no aircraft were reported missing.
  • Belfast News-Letter, 11 June 1931, 15 September 1932, 15 October 1936 & 10 October 1937
  • Northern Whig, 1 November 1935

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