Freckleton air disaster
A B-24H similar to the accident aircraft
|Date||23 August 1944|
|Summary||Loss of control cause unknown|
|Site||Freckleton, Lancashire, England |
|Aircraft type||Consolidated B-24H Liberator|
|Aircraft name||Classy Chassis II|
|Operator||US Army Air Force|
|Flight origin||RAF Warton|
|Fatalities||61 (all 3 crew, plus 58 on the ground)|
The Freckleton air disaster occurred on 23 August 1944, when a Consolidated B-24 Liberator of the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) crashed into the centre of the village of Freckleton, Lancashire, England. The aircraft crashed into the Holy Trinity Church of England School, demolishing three houses and the Sad Sack Snack Bar. The death toll was 61, including 38 children.
Two newly refurbished B-24 heavy bombers, being made ready for delivery to the 2nd Combat Division, departed USAAF Base Air Depot 2 at Warton Aerodrome on a test flight at 10.30 am. Due to an approaching violent storm, both were recalled. By the time they had returned to the vicinity of the aerodrome, however, the wind and rain had significantly reduced visibility. Contemporary newspaper reports detailed wind velocities approaching 60 mph (100 km/h); water spouts in the Ribble Estuary; and flash flooding in Southport and Blackpool.
On approach from the west, towards runway 08, and in formation with the second aircraft, First Lieutenant John Bloemendal, pilot of the first Consolidated B-24H Liberator USAAF serial number 42-50291 (named Classy Chassis II), reported to the control tower that he was aborting landing at the last moment and would perform a go-around. Shortly afterwards, and out of sight of the second aircraft, the aircraft hit the village of Freckleton, just east of the airfield.
Already flying very low to the ground and with wings near vertical, the B-24's right wing tip hit a tree-top and was ripped away as it impacted with the corner of a building. The rest of the wing continued, ploughing along the ground and through a hedge. The fuselage of the 25-ton bomber continued, partly demolishing three houses and the Sad Sack Snack Bar that catered specifically for American servicemen from the airbase, before crossing Lytham Road and bursting into flames. After part of the aircraft hit the infants' wing of Freckleton Holy Trinity School, fuel from the ruptured tanks ignited and produced another sea of flames. The clock in one classroom stopped at 10.47 am.
52 people (the three crew members on the B-24, 34 children, one teacher, six American servicemen, one RAF airman and seven Snack Bar staff) died instantly, with nine others (four children, one teacher, an American serviceman and three RAF airmen) later dying in hospital from their injuries.
The official report stated that the exact cause of the crash was unknown, but concluded that the pilot had not fully realised the danger that the storm posed until he was into his final approach, by which time he had insufficient altitude and speed to manoeuvre, given the probable strength of wind and downdraughts that must have prevailed.
Structural failure of the aircraft in the extreme conditions was not ruled out, although the complete destruction of the airframe had precluded any meaningful investigation.
Noting that many of the pilots coming to the UK commonly believed that British storms were little more than showers, the report recommended that all U.S. trained pilots should be emphatically warned of the dangers of British thunderstorms.
A memorial garden and children's playground were opened in August 1945, in memory of those lost, the money for the playground equipment having been raised by American airmen at the Warton airbase. A fund for a memorial hall was started, and the hall was finally opened in September 1977. In addition to a memorial in the village churchyard, a marker was placed at the site of the accident in 2007.
This article needs additional citations for verification. (December 2009) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
- The History of Freckleton, Carnegie Publishing Ltd, Peter Shakeshaft, 2001, p. 245
- Hedtke, James (2014). The Freckleton, England Air Disaster. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc. Publishers. p. 62. ISBN 978-0-7864-7841-5.
- "We salute you... Village Disaster Monument", FlyPast, Stamford, Lincs., UK, Number 315, October 2007, page 98.
- Turner, Joyce (2007). The Freckleton Tragedy, 1944. Blackpool, UK: Landy Publishing. ISBN 978-1-872895-77-2.