Today is the 70th anniversary of a plane crash that occurred on Achill Island on 16th June 1950.
The plane was a converted Handley Page Halifax Bomber operated by the RAF and was on a routine meteorological survey. RG843 departed Aldergrove airport in Belfast at 9am and used the “Donegal Corridor”, a narrow strip of Irish Airspace from Belleek in County Fermanagh to Ballyshannon in County Donegal, that allowed access to the Atlantic Ocean for military aircraft based in Northern Ireland. Once far enough out in the Atlantic, the aircraft headed due South along the coast of Mayo, Galway, Clare and Kerry on a journey that would take them to the Bay of Biscay, a distance of some 850 nautical miles, where they would undertake their weather survey. Once completed, they were due to follow the same route back again to Belfast.
The last radio contact from the aircraft indicated that they were off the coast of Kerry and on their way home. They also reported that they were flying at 1,800ft and that weather conditions had deteriorated badly. A think fog had come in from the Atlantic and covered the Irish coast. Moments later, at 4:30pm, the aircraft crashed into Croaghan Mountain on Achill Island. According to their final transmission the crew believed that they were approximately 148 miles further south. All eight crew men died instantly.
On the ground on Achill Island, the thick fog had reduced visibility to just a few yards. A loud bang was heard by the villagers in Dooagh. Many assumed it was thunder and some concluded that it was another landslide as one had occurred in the area earlier that year. A local farmer called Martin Fadian was minding sheep at the time and heard the explosion. At around 7pm the fog lifted and he decided to investigate. He looked up to the mountain and noticed a large and unusual yellow object. He went to his brothers house to get a pair of binoculars but by the time he got there the fog had once again come down. By this time local fishermen who had returned from fishing reported the they had heard the engines of a large plane over Keem Bay immediately before the crash. Mr. Fadian informed the guards in Keel and a search was arranged.
The search party was led by Fadian and by 10:30 they had come across a debris field that included a wheel and a propellor. Later that night at around 12:30 am, they discovered the first five bodies. By this time the fog had been replaced by torrential rain, making the task even more difficult. The remaining three bodies were discovered shortly after first light.
An inquest was held in the Dooagh Hall later that day where the bodies had been taken. The coroner returned a verdict that all men had died of multiple injuries following a plane crash. The coroner also said that Martin Fadian deserved the highest credit for his actions.
According to the report in the Irish Times, a crowd of 5,000 people attended the removal of the bodies to pay their respects. “Heads were bared and the bodies were carried out one by one and placed in ambulances for their last journey”
The convoy travelled to the border with Northern Ireland where they were handed over to the British authorities.
Today all 4 of the planes Bristol Hercules radial engines remain at the crash scene. Each weighing almost a tonne. Along with a painted white stone they served as memorial to the eight men who lost their lives.
The hike to the crash site is now a popular hike for tourists to the island.