During my extensive walks in the Dales and Lake District I have become aware of several aircraft wreckage sites. Most are just overgrown hollows in the moors, with a couple of bits of metal strewn around. Easy to miss unless you know they are there. Poignant reminders of lives lost and now almost gone and forgotten forever. But I had no idea there were so many until I started to do a bit of research – I had previously decided I would try to visit each site for my own amusement. I had no idea how many there were. At present I know of over 120! For anyone interested this excellent site lists them all.
Most have ended in all crew being killed on impact, but one particular crash is unique and it has become famous locally as a tale of outstanding courage and survival.
On the night of 30/31st January 1942 Wellington N2848 took off from Bamcote airfield in Warwickshire to undertake a cross country training flight. Meeting very heavy snow over Yorkshire and in poor visibility the aircraft hit the ground near a wall close to the summit of Buckden Pike – a small mountain in the Yorkshire Dales. The tail gunner Sgt. Jozef Fusniak was thrown clear and suffered a broken ankle. All other crew were dead except one and he was made comfortable while Sgt. Fusniak set off to find help.
Not knowing where he was and in the dark and with very heavy snow on the ground Sgt. Fusniak started to walk hoping he could find a farmhouse or village somewhere. Stumbling around he eventually located some fox tracks in the snow which he followed and eventually these led to the little hamlet of Cray. By the time help arrived at the crash site the remaining crew man had died.
There is a fascinating website authored by the son of Sgt. Fusniak here, and I strongly encourage you to read it.
I had known about the crash site for some years (there is a memorial cross there) but despite many visits to Buckden Pike I had never stopped to visit. Mentioning the tale to some of my work colleagues we decided to pay our respects.
On a beautiful summer morning we parked our cars at the little village of Kettlewell and set off up the fells. As we had all day we decided we would add a few miles to our walk and take in Great Whernside mountain as well. I was a bit breathless when we reached the summit but the views over Wharfedale were stunning.
Coming down the summit we eventually walked through some muddy moorland then through some fields of waist high grass. Eventually the ground started to get muddy and in the middle of nowhere we came across the crash site and the memorial cross.
It was difficult to imagine the shock and fear poor Joe must have felt as he stumbled around in the dark and snow – this day was hot and sunny. A perfect day for us, but if you closed your eyes a minute you could almost imagine the wind howling and the carnage of a wrecked plane with your mates dead inside.
We stopped and reflected awhile and then we set off back down the mountain towards Kettlewell – past some old mine workings and back to the car. A superb day – but one touched by the sadness of the crash.