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1944-04-28 The loss of Erick den Hollander

Crash site: Loughmagarry, hamlet of Dernaveagh, near Ballymena, Antrim, Northern Ireland.

Crash cause: oxygen failure presumed officially, but more likely engine trouble. The pilot's body was found thrown clear of the burning wreck.

Name

Hollander, Erick Hendrik den

E.H. den Hollander Source: SLH Eglinton St Canice 0604 mw Hollander EH den Photo by Marbeth Wilson

Rank

Off Vl 3kl, Pilot

Decorations

None known

Born

29/9/1922

Place

Bandoeng, Java, NEI

Squadron

FAA 1847 Sqn

Ops/hr

Aircraft

Hellcat Mk. I Nr. FN390 'M'

Base

RAF Eglinton, Londonderry, N-Ire

Mission

Training

Status

KIFA, aircraft dived in vertically; oxygen failure presumed officially, but many questions remain unanswered

age

21

Killed

28/4/1944

Place

Shortly after 10.30h, hamlet of Dernaveagh, Loughmagarry, North of Ballymena, Antrim, Northern Ireland

Buried

Faughanvale St. Canice Churchyard, Eglinton, N-Ire, grave 15

Known to

OGS

yes

CWGC

no

Remarks

Memorial

Mill Hill Memorial Table, London, GB

GB arrival

Data

Confusion

Gedenkrol KM: buried Creggan Church Cemetery, Eglinton

Crash site mentioned as Drenaveagh, following the Ordinance Survey Map, should be Dernaveagh

Loughmagarry is sometimes spelled Loughmagerry and even Loughmegarry.


In the Memorial roll of the Royal Dutch Navy it is stated that the oxygen equipment malfunctioned at an altitude of about 26.000 ft.

Source: Harry Floor, Gedenkrol van de Koninklijke Marine 1939-1962, Stichting Het Veteraneninstituut, 2004, p. 47

We may wonder how that was established as the cause of this accident.

2. Eyewitness accounts

Eyewitness account by Mr James McCarroll of Loughmagarry, Antrim, N. Ireland, as relayed by his daughter, Mrs Marbeth Wilson. Mr. McCarroll did not eyewitness the crash itself, but the events shortly after that.

Mrs Wilson:

'About two years ago, I asked my father to write down his memory of that day so that the details would be preserved so that this young man would not be forgotten. I contacted my local library to see if any information wasprinted in the local newspapers following the crash but as such events were banned from publication during the war, I found nothing. The librarian did put me in touch with a gentleman called Mr Ernie Cromie who is a member of the Ulster Aviation Society and I gave Mr Cromie my Dad's account of the
circumstances following the crash on 28 April 1944 so that this information
would not be lost.'

Mr McCarroll:

'On Friday 28 April 1944, I was 18 years of age and working at HM Victualling Depot at Dromona, Cullybackey, where I was employed in a clerical capacity. At approx. 10.30 am I could hear the sound of aircraft flying overhead, and aeroplanes being my interest, I remember thinking at the time that there was more than one aircraft and that they were flying in convoy. Of course, this was a regular occurrence in those days.

Suddenly, I heard two very high pitched short sharp whines, one immediately following the other which I took to be an aircraft in trouble and then there was silence. Owing to the fact that I was inside this very large
building, I could not see outside, but I was aware that something had happened.

At around 11.00am, the staff van was returning from Ballymena and the driver and helper told us that an aeroplane had indeed crashed. They had followed the cloud of smoke which was rising and by the description of the area they gave of the crash site, I knew this had occurred very close to my home where I lived with my father, mother and younger brother and sister. My father was a farmer and had left to go to market that day, but the rest of my family was at home. I got permission to leave work and made my way home as quickly as I possibly could by bicycle, a journey of approximately 4 miles. When I reached the Dunnygarron area (about half way home), I could see a big plume of smoke and flames reaching into the sky.

When I neared home, I was aware of the neighbours who were all outside their houses to witness the tragedy and confusion. When I got to approx. 100 yards from our farm, which was situated on the Old Coach Road, Loughmegarry, I was stopped by a police man who told me I could go no further. I was amazed by what I saw, the smoke and flames were rising from the wreckage in a cornfield just across the road from the house. The plane had crashed about 6 feet inside the cornfield narrowly missing the road and a large ash tree growing in the hedge. The area was like a war zone, bullets from the plane were still exploding everywhere and parts of the smouldering and burning wreckage were strewn right across the road and into a potato field on the other side of the road.

When I explained to the policeman that I had to get through as I lived there and was worried about the rest of my family, he told me to leave the bicycle and take to the potato field opposite the crash site, keeping as close to the hedge as possible. This I did. When I reached home, my mother, sister and brother were inside the house and they were very shocked. They had heard the noise of the plane when it was in trouble and thought it was going to come down on top of the house.

It was only a short time until RAF Personnel arrived to take control of things.

The undercarriage i.e. the axle and wheels were found on the top of the roof of our hayshed which stood approx. 20 feet away from the house in the back yard. The tail of the aircraft was the only part visible in the field as the nose and cockpit had buried deep into the ground. I remember hearing afterwards that, apparently, the propeller shaft was embedded about 30 feet deep into the hard soil. It took a few days for RAF Personnel to dig out the wreckage which was taken away by RAF transport.

The pilot's body was recovered from our field behind the hayshed.

I remember talking to people at the time who had relayed stories of how the aircraft had been seen rising into the air and diving a number of times apparently even hitting tree tops in places before it hit the ground. There were twigs caught around the rudder and tail plane. It was evident the plane was in deep trouble before the impact. It was thought that the parachute had been damaged by fire before the crash happened.

I don't know for sure what caused the plane to crash, but there was talk at the time that the plane was not flying alone and it was thought that 2 Hellcats had touched as they were flying closely together, but I cannot confirm this as I didn't actually witness the event personally.

At the time, I lived at home on my father's farm which was situated on the Old Coach Road, in the townland of Loughmagarry, approximately 3 miles north of Ballymena. Coming from the direction of Ballymena towards Ballymoney, the farmstead and all the farm buildings, including the hayshed where the undercarriage was found, were located on the right hand side of the road. The crash occurred in a corn field directly opposite the house and farmyard, approximately 6 feet from the road side and to the left of a large ash tree which was growing in the hedgerow at that time.'

Source: Marbeth Wilson, email 20/3/2006



James McCarroll in 1942 Source: Marbeth Wilson


See Marbeth Wilson's remarks regarding this photograph below. Loughmagarry 2.jpg Source: Marbeth Wilson

Marbeth Wilson, 3/5/2006:

'I attach a photograph which shows a back view of my Grandparent's house and hayshed. This shows the proximity of the hayshed to the house and helps to explain the shock it must have been for my grandmother, and my father's younger brother, Tommy and his sister, Jean when they saw the aircraft heading for their house.

The crash occurred approximately where the two large trees are on the right hand side of the photo - about 6 feet inside the field - you will see a cream coloured building in the picture - this was not there in 1944. If you remember, the undercarriage landed on the roof of the hayshed.

The pilot's body was recovered from the field visible in the photo - ie. the field behind the house and hayshed.

This photo is recent - only taken about 2 weeks ago - but little has changed since 1944.'

REPORT ON HELLCRASH CRASH AT LOUGHMAGARRY ON 28TH APRIL 1944 BY SAMUEL GASTON, TEESHAN

'I was born in 1926 in the townland of Teeshan outside Ballymena and lived with my parents, John and Minnie Gaston along with my two brothers and 3 sisters on the family farm. On the morning of 28th April 1944, I was a lad of 17 and was helping with farm work in the field behind the house. The sky was clear with good visibility.

At approx 10.30am I became aware of a high pitched noise and knew that it was an aircraft. I remember thinking that it was not the noise made by a Spitfire or a Hurricane. I thought there was something abnormal about the sound. I looked up and saw an aircraft which was flying at approximately 5,000 feet. It was coming from the direction of Ballymena and was flying level in a north/north-west direction. It was alone – there was no other aircraft in the sky. At first, I saw nothing to indicate it was in trouble. Having an interest in aircraft, I watched and was shocked when after a few seconds I quite clearly saw something fall from the plane towards the ground. I remember thinking to myself – ‘This boy is in trouble’. Within a matter of seconds, another smaller part fell from the plane towards the ground. The aircraft immediately took a dive and headed straight to where it very quickly crashed. There were no signs of smoke or fire from the aircraft while it was in the air – the fire happened on impact. It occurred to me at the time that the crash must have been caused by some kind of structural failure.

I immediately stopped what I was doing and rushed by bicycle in the direction of the crash which was approximately 1 mile away by road via Teeshan cross-roads and Park’s cross-roads. When I got to Park’s cross-roads (about half a mile from my home) I found the first piece of the plane which I had witnessed falling from the aircraft lying on the road. It was a piece of camouflaged metal, ie khaki and green coloured, and was about 2 feet in length and of an irregular shape. It was quite a large piece. In my opinion, it was neither part of the body of the plane nor part of a wing – I thought it was most likely to be part of the tail section. I lifted this and carried it into Hill Park’s yard (Hill Park lived in a house beside Park’s Cross-roads – hence the name Park’s Cross) and left it underneath a laurel hedge. I told the Park family where I was leaving it.

I rushed on towards the scene of the crash (approx. a further half-mile) and when I got there a few neighbours had gathered and a few more were arriving. I immediately became aware of a strong burning smell and noticed the bulk of the plane lying inside the field on the other side of the road from the McCarroll home. Other parts of the aircraft were scattered here and there and these were all on fire – some were in the field on the opposite side of the road – the undercarriage was on top of the hayshed about 20 feet behind McCarroll’s house.

I saw the pilot’s remains in the field directly behind McCarroll’s house and hayshed. It was obvious he had been killed on impact and his body was badly burned.

In a short space of time the Ballymena Fire Brigade arrived. They used McCarroll’s pump but this quickly ran out of water. I then saw people running with buckets of water but it was clear that the Ballymena Fire Brigade was not equipped to deal with such a disaster.

Airforce personnel arrived and sealed off the site but I was already inside the area and as a result was able to witness the details.

I saw officials remove the pilot’s wallet from the pocket inside his jacket and as I was standing very close by I overheard as they read out his identity and nationality. It registered with me that he was of Dutch origin. I remember that even the corner of his wallet was burned. The officials wrapped the pilot’s remains in his parachute which they spread out on the field. The parachute had also been damaged by fire – I presume on impact as no smoke or flames were visible before the crash.

Within a short time, the American Fire Brigade arrived. I understand this came from Toome Airfield where they were probably stationed at the time. They sprayed the fires with water and foam – this was the first time I had seen foam being used.

I remained at the crash scene for approximately 2 hours and when I returned to Hill Park’s house I was told that the piece of camouflaged metal which I had witnessed falling from the plane seconds before the crash and which I had earlier found lying on the road and subsequently placed underneath the laurel hedge had been recovered by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) who were at that time stationed at High Street in Ballymena.'

Source: Marbeth Wilson, email 3/5/2006

Marbeth Wilson:

'You will notice some discrepancies in the two reports in that in my father's report he said that from his position inside the building where he worked, he heard the sound of what he thought was more than one aircraft. However, he could not see outside and was relying on sound alone. Sammy Gaston clearly saw the aircraft and was able to confirm that it was flying alone at least in the last minute/ seconds before the crash.

Again, in my father's account, he stated that he 'remembered talking to people at the time who had relayed stories of how the aircraft had been seen rising into the air and diving a number of times apparently even hitting tree tops in places before it hit the ground. There were twigs caught around the rudder and tail plane. It was evident the plane was in deep trouble before the impact. It was thought that the parachute had been damaged by fire before the crash happened'.

Sammy Gaston did not see the plane rising into the air and diving - he saw it flying level in the last minute/seconds and although he saw it diving straight towards the scene of the crash, he lost sight of it before it actually hit the ground. Sammy Gaston did not see any smoke or flames prior to the impact which is at variance with what my father had been told -
that the parachute had been damaged by fire before the impact.

In talking to Sammy Gaston, he still wonders to this day, as to why the pilot didn't bale out - he thought he would have had time.

Both my father and Sammy Gaston are intelligent men who had and still have an enduring interest in air-craft and although there are differences in the accounts, I believe that both are accurate in their own way - Sammy's in what he actually saw - my father's in what he learned from listening to people at the time and his own personal account of the aftermath.'

Source: Marbeth Wilson, email 3/5/2006

I was interested to learn that Sammy Gaston's account of the colour of the piece of metal did not tally with that of a FAA Hellcat. When I first talked to him about his recollections, he told me about finding this piece of metal lying on the road. He did not volunteer the colour until I asked him if he remembered what colour this was. He thought for a minute and then said 'camouflaged - khaki and green'. It may be that subconsciously he associated this colour with aircraft at the time. In addition, if you consider the state he must have been in at the time - having just witnessed a plane crash closeby - and was hurrying to get to the scene - I suppose this could be an understandable error. I asked him about this today - he said it is possible he got this wrong - but he is adamant it is the first piece which he saw fall from the plane - he does not know where the second piece landed.

Source: Marbeth Wilson, email 3/5/2006

Figure 6. Sketch by Marbeth Wilson, showing the crash site in relation to the residences of eyewitnesses James McCarroll and Samuel Gaston.

Message received from Marbeth Wilson, 21/11/2006:

Dear Rob

It is with much sadness that I write you this letter. My parents would have been married sixty years had they survived until 19th March 2007. Unfortunately my mother developed pneumonia and died 25 August 2006. Approximately 5 weeks later my father was diagnosed with bowel cancer and was admitted to hospital on 1st October. He underwent surgery on 23rd October but sadly he developed a chest infection following surgery and died 4th November as a result of pneumonia ie 10 weeks after my mother's death.

Incidentally, my mother-in-law also died from a massive stroke on 31st October ie 4 days before my father's death - so it is a period in time my husband and I will never forget.

I know my father was very excited at the thought of his memories of the Den Hollander crash being recorded in your project and I so wished he would have survived to witness the end result. I know he would have gained much pleasure from seeing his own account included and would also have been very interested in learning about the witness accounts of all those other Dutch aviators who died during the War.

I attach for your information a photo I took of my parents on my mother's 79th birthday on 14th August ie 11 days before her death. It is hard to believe they are both gone in such a short space of time.

Kind regards Marbeth Wilson

3. Crash cause analysis

Author translates the information in both eyewitness reports as follows:

1. Oxygen failure is the official explanation for this fatal crash. We did not see any evidence presented from an official side, that could support this statement. It is not a proven theory, but a hypothesis.

2a. Oxygen failure, in any of the several shapes it can take, translates to uncounsiousness of the aviator.

2b. Hellcats and other WW2 fighter aircraft could hardly fly level without the control of a pilot.

2c. If the pilot became unconscious, these aircraft types would dive down steeply.

2d. If the aircraft came down from 26.000 ft, and was seen to fly level at about 5.000 ft, then we have to assume that the pilot was in control of his craft. For that he needed to be conscious.

2e. If oxygen failure occurred, then it did not cause this crash.

3. The oxygen failure hypothesis may have come about if the aircraft fell out of a formation flying at high altitude, where an artificial oxygen supply was needed, and if there was no radio communication with the pilot after his aircraft went down.

4. Both reports mention a high pitched engine sound. That translates to me as either an engine overrevving as in an uncontrolled dive, or an engine out of control as a result of mechanical failure.

5. The part found by Mr. Gaston is described by him as made of metal, and coloured khaki and green. These colours seem out of place on a FAA Hellcat. The part may not have come from this aircraft. It is not really relevant. What matters is that Mr. Gaston saw two pieces of the aircraft falling off in flight. Because of the crash immediately after that, we dismiss the possibility that the pilot was doing something out of the ordinary, such as dropping a message at the home of a girl friend. Two pieces falling off has to be understood as trouble with the aircraft.

6. As bits were falling off the aircraft in flight, we have to assume mechanical failure - there was no enemy in sight, and there is no report on 'friendly fire' causing the accident. A friendly fire incident may have been covered up, but this route for research is unlikely to lead anywhere. I assume that anti aircraft guns were very rare indeed in the midst of rural Ireland.

7. We have no evidence of a mid-air collision.

8. The pilot, flying level at about 5.000 ft, with an aircraft that may have been in trouble, saw no need to jump out.

9. Then the technical state of the aircraft deteriorated rapidly. The aircraft went into a dive, and parts fell off. This suggests engine failure, up to the point that engine parts broke loose and were launched with a force sufficient to tear off the section of aircraft skin seen and found by Mr. Gaston. We may be talking about a turbo fan blade that broke, or something similar. This has happened to at least two of the other Dutch RAF/FAA fighter pilots who lost their lives. Such a mechanical failure could take the shape of an engine that seemed to have exploded. It could easily be lethal to aircraft and aviator.

10. An explosion-like engine failure may have wounded or even killed the aviator. The pilot was sitting only a meter away from the engine's turbo. That would explain why he did not get out when the dive down from 5.000 ft. started. But even if the pilot was unhurt, he had very little time to jump out. If the aircraft would be cruising at say 450 km/h, then a vertical distance of 5.000 ft. translates to a flight time of no more than 12 seconds to impact. And perhaps only six seconds if the pilot was to jump at a safe height. Or less as the diving speed increased. No ejection seats in those days. Imagine unstrapping and getting out of Hellcat diving down, in only six seconds. No way, unless the aircraft could be controlled and flown upside down, so that the pilot could fall free from his craft.

11. The aircraft was seen to fly without visible fire, but the wreck burned on the ground. The body of the pilot was badly burned. We assume that somehow the body was thrown from the aircraft upon impact, and that the pilot did not leave the aircraft very shortly before impact. The momentum of the impact is towards the ground. This momentum acts upon the aircraft and everything in it, including the aviator. A body thrown clear over several dozen meters from the crash site seems a situation that is against basic laws of physics. But nevertheless this situation has been seen on other similar occasions too. The body may have been launched as a result of an explosion of aviation fuel during or shortly after the impact.

12. The oxygen failure hypothesis may be valid next to the engine failure hypothesis, if we assume that the pilot dived down from high altitude, possibly as a result of oxygen failure, and regained his consciousness on the way down when more natural oxygen became availabe. The uncontrolled dive down may have damaged the engine by overrevving, leading to engine failure that finally led to the crash. If the pilot dived down almost vertically from 26.000 feet, with an average airspeed of 600 km/h, then he would arrive at 8.000 feet in 29 seconds. 8.000 feet assumed to be the altitude at which the pilot started the recovery from the dive, leading to the observed level flight at 5.000 feet. A period of half a minute between passing out and regaining consciousness seems within the capabilities of the human body.

With this I believe we can either substitute the oxygen failure hypothesis with an engine failure hypothesis, or assume that both are valid, one occuring after the other. But it remains only a hypothesis, as we have no report on an investigation of the wreck, let alone clear results from such an investigation. Nevertheless, this new hypothesis, in either of its two shapes, seems the more plausible one.

'It is a great pity that there isn't, to the best of my knowledge, an official accident report form for Hellcat FN390, or for any RN Hellcats for that matter. Records for Royal Air Force aircraft accidents are exemplary but, in comparison, Navy records are almost non-existent, one of a number of significant differences between these two services in terms of research.'

Source: Ernie Cromie, email 22/3/2006

Ernie Cromie has given some more information about the data availability situation. This information is enlightening, and therefore reproduced below.

'The problem is that whereas there is a wealth of records - in Government archives and private collections - relating to a wide range of matters during World War 2, unfortunately they are not always factually reliable and a lot of the information is contradictory. To the likes of us, who now live in a society which seems to believe that we have the answer to everything, such a state of affairs may seem to be deplorable but one must consider that in 1944 there was a war on, so to speak, and the people directly involved, even on the administrative sidelines, were often under tremendous pressure and stress. For instance, in Northern Ireland alone, I estimate on the basis of my researches that around 2000 (two thousand) aircraft were written off during the course of the war, largely as a result of flying accidents - an average of one per day from start to finish of hostilities (on a particular day, there might have been as many as half a dozen). In such circumstances, it's not surprising that mistakes were made or hurried conclusions drawn and, notwithstanding the numerous gaps and errors that occur, I consider it remarkable that official archives contain as much information as they do.

Regrettably, the den Hollander tragedy is one example of an incident for which there are incomplete and inconsistent records, the problem being compounded by the fact that his aircraft was on strength to a Royal Navy squadron. To their Lordships of the Admiralty, an aircraft was simply just another item in the overall armoury whereas to the Air Ministry and the Air Marshals it was their raison d'etre. Consequently, in the RAF, an elaborate system of standardised forms and documents was devised to keep track of an aircraft from the moment it was decided to purchase it until it was struck off charge, including the units in which it served, nature of repairs/alterations that were carried out to it in service etc etc and this was supplemented by additional standardised forms on which the actions and activities in which it and the squadron(s) with which it served was/were involved had to be recorded. The best-known example of the latter is the RAF Operations Record Book (the Form 540 to give it its official designation, in which the day-to-day activities of squadrons and RAF Stations were recorded). The Forms 540 were kept up-to-date by an appointed officer and copies of them were regularly required to be forwarded to Air Historical Branch of the Air Ministry.

Sadly, the Royal Navy was not so well organized in terms of its aircraft and squadrons; rather, it seems to have had a somewhat cavalier attitude to record-keeping, there being no standardised method of recording and retaining the history of each squadron. In effect, each squadron, if it kept records at all, did so as it thought fit. In a few cases of which I'm aware, this consisted of a 'diary', scribbled in pencil or ink in a 'school jotter' type of notebook! I understand there is a 'diary' relating to 1847 Sqn (den Hollander's squadron) in the Fleet Air Arm Museum at Yeovilton but I have to confess I haven't seen it and it does not necessarily fit the description I've given above.'

Source: Ernie Cromie, email 6/6/2006

4. Crash site data

Map 64. Loughmagarry, at the hamlet of Dernaveagh, North of Ballymena, Antrim, N. Ireland, where E.H. den Hollander crashed on 28/4/1944

With thanks to Ernie Cromie of the Ulster Aviation Society.

Marbeth Wilson pointed out that 'Drenaveagh' is a spelling error in the Ordinance Survey Map at the right: 'To be absolutely certain, I called into the Reference Library today on Trostan Avenue, Ballymena and discussed this with Yvonne Hirst and Liz Hoey (Librarians) who confirmed that this was an error on the Ordnance Survey Map. You will also notice the townland of 'Tullaghgarley' appearing on the Ordnance Survey Map. Although this is not an error as far as the map is concerned, locally this area is known as 'Tullygrawley' which lies adjacent to 'Fenagh' where Sammy Gaston lived. No locals would recognise this area by the name 'Tullaghgarley' and would find it very confusing as there is another area called 'Tullaghgarley' just on the southern outskirts of Ballymena. This again was confirmed by Liz Hoey and Yvonne Hirst (Librarians) at Ballymena Reference Library.'

Source: Marbeth Wilson, email 6/6/2006



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