Carnmoney aircraft tragedy forgotten in mists of time

THIS year marks the centenary in aviation history on Carnmoney Hill.

Lilian Bland, a grand-daughter of the Dean of Belfast, built her own plane called the Mayfly. The aircraft successfully left the ground on Carnmoney Hill with four Royal Irish Constabulary constables frantically hanging on to the wings.

She became the first woman in Ireland and possibly in the world to build and fly her own aircraft - an amazing achievement in its time and a true pioneer in aviation history.

The B-17G bomber which crashed into the Cave Hill on June 1, 1944, killing all 10 American airmen has been well documented. In fact, Sir Richard Attenborough’s blockbuster movie, ‘Closing the Ring’, starring Shirley MacLaine and Christopher Plummer, was filmed on the Cave Hill and was based on the air crash and the find of a wedding ring belonging to one of the airmen.

However, there are many people living in Newtownabbey under the shadow of Carnmoney Hill, who are not aware that a Lysander single-engined aircraft used for army co-operation work crashed on Carnmoney Hill on March 17, 1943, killing all three on board.

They were Warrant Officer BDL Gillman, aged 23 and Leading Aircraftman DE Winterton, age 20, who were both were serving in the No 1 Armament Practice Camp at RAF Aldergrove. The third man was Aircraftman 1st Class Arthur Bond Douthwaite RAF, age 22, purportedly from Tamlaght near Enniskillen. His remains are interred in Belfast City Cemetery.

The aircraft was flying to the Aldergrove camp and the weather on that day was reportedly bad, but whether that was the contributing factor for the aircraft to come down will remain a mystery.

Carnmoney Hill nature reserve, which is looked after by the Woodland Trust, offers delightful walks through well-maintained leafy lanes. Providing a natural habitat for wildlife and a not too arduous climb to the summit, it provides magnificent views across the borough of Newtownabbey and beyond.

Brian Ramsey, Hill Warden, said it would be an appropriate gesture if either the Woodland Trust or Newtownabbey Council would erect a memorial at the crash site to honour those who lost their lives, as well as marking the links with Lilian Bland.

“People are always interested in local history and I do feel that information on Lilian Bland’s pioneering achievement should be on display in the park,” he added.