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Air Collision Between Two C-47 Skytrain's
71st TCS, 434th TCG, US 9th Air Force
30th November 1943
This collision involved aircraft from the 71st Sq. of the 434th Troop Carrier Group. Three C-47s were flying at low altitude in a 'vee' formation when two of the planes touched wings in mid-air and spun out of control crashing either side of a narrow country road near Witcha Farm, 1 1/2 miles south-west of Membury Airfield.
At the time of the crash the 434th TCG's home station was Fulbeck in Lincolnshire. However on 30th November 1943 the three aircraft mentioned above were operating out of station 474, Welford, Berkshire. They had been up for about 45 minutes in the local area on a routine formation training mission. The group had returned to Welford and each made a follow through landing, taking off again at a safe interval one behind each other. The three aircraft then flew almost directly westward for 6 miles towards station 466 Membury, still in line astern. As they reached the southern edge of the airfield the wingmen began to formate on their leader and it was at this point that the collision occurred. First Lieutenant George K. McLean was the pilot of the surviving aircraft (C-47A Serial number 4224031) and the following is an extract from his accident report. ‘We had been flying rather low, about 150 feet, and Lt. Markowitz (pilot of the lead aircraft) pulled up to gain altitude and started to turn to the left. Lt. Bryan’s plane was on the inside of the turn and slid into the leader. I saw the right wing tip break off from Lt. Bryan’s plane as the two collided at an altitude of about 400 feet above the terrain.’
Lt. McLean immediately landed at Membury and informed the control tower of the accident. However the tower had seen what had happened and a fire tender and crash truck were already on the move as Lt. McLean and his crew taxied in. Sadly, the crews of both aircraft died instantly when they hit the ground. The names of those who lost their lives are as follows:
Serial number 4224030 (Formation leader)
Pilot - 1st Lt. Alvin Markowitz
Co-pilot - 2nd Lt. Forrest K. Ames
Flight engineer - S/Sgt. Roy A. Taylor
Radio Operator - Sgt. Irvin T. Foucheaux
Navigator - 2nd Lt. Ralph Q. Rice
Serial number 4224028
Pilot - 2nd Lt. Samuel J. Bryan
Co-pilot - 2nd Lt. Bernard R. Gildea
Flight engineer - Sgt. Roy A. Adams
Radio operator - S/Sgt. Julius J. Jacobs
The crash investigators in their report of the accident concluded that both pilots involved should equally share responsibility for the tragedy. Lt. Markowitz for showing poor judgement and Lt. Bryan for poor technique.
Fifty-eight years later, with the local landowner’s permission, I made a search of the crash site to try and locate the aircraft’s impact points. Eyewitnesses had given me a rough idea of where I should start my search but it took over an hour before I found my first piece of wreckage. Soon I had picked up a large number of objects, many lying on the surface, including solidified lumps of aluminium - testimony to the intense fire that followed the crash.
The remains of C-47 4224028 lie on a hillside near Witcha. The black marks
in the centre right of the picture are where C-47 4224030 crashed.
Below left: C-47 serial No.4224028 still burning shortly after the crash. Below right: The burnt out remains of C-47 serial No. 4224030.
Above: The photographer is standing approximately on the point where aircraft serial No.4224028 crashed. The other plane, serial No.4224030, dived into the centre of the field beyond the road.
Above: Some items of wreckage recovered from the crash site.
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Copyright 2004 Roger Day