Sunderland  DV979

Black Rock, Islay, Argyll













Aircraft Type Photo


BELOW: An RCAF Short Sunderland seaplane or  flying boat similar to the type featured on this page.


a short sunderland flying boat of the rcaf taking off


Photo: Pre 1949.






Aircraft Type and Background


RAF Short Sunderland Mk. III / DV979



The Short Sunderland was derived from the C Class 'Empire' flying boats used by Imperial Airways1 in the 1930's.


Capable of carrying a crew of ten, the first Sunderlands Mk.I's were assigned to 230 Squadron at Singapore. When war broke out in 1939, three squadrons of Coastal Command had been equipped with the heavily-armed Sunderlands. These Sunderlands were used extensively over the Atlantic in the war against the U-boats, and also as search and rescue aircraft for seamen and downed aircrew.


The Mk.II version of the Sunderland was equipped with four Bristol Pegasus XVIII supercharged engines and improved turret arrangments. The Mk.III introduced in 1941 had a more streamlined hull to improve take-off. The Mark III is the type featured on this page.


Other version of the Sunderland up to Mk.V were introduced. This version had four Pratt and Whitney R1830-90 Twin Wasp engines.






1 Imperial Airways (IA). Imperial Airways was formed in April 1924 from the merger of The Instone Air Line, Daimler Airway, Handley Page Transport, and British Marine Air Navigation. Imperial Airways was the 'State' or 'National' airline until, in November 1939, it was absorbed by British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC).






Aircraft Accident Details



Accident Summary


Part A: Accident occurred at night when aircraft was approaching to land on Flare Path. Aircraft crash 50 (fifty) yards (46m) from shore. Flare Path consisted of three boats all carrying festoon lights. Depth charges exploded.


Part B: Aircraft believed to have struck house on beach with port float. Contributory factors: Flare Path not laid in normal position due to sea conditions. Pilot was aware of this and was warned not to overshoot. Landing was emergency as pilot stated he had insufficient fuel to accept diversion to Lough Erne [N. Ireland]. Pilot undershot and crashed.


Part C: Court of Enquiry being held to investigate accident.





Court of Enquiry Findings:


The Court finds:


(1) CAUSE OF ACCIDENT: An error of judgement by the Captain of the aircraft in that he overestimated his altitude thereby undershooting the flare path and striking an object approximately 35 feet (11m) above sea level and 1300 yards (1,200m)from the first flare. It would appear that both pilots were concentrating on looking for objects directly below instead of using the flare path to estimate their height and relative position.


(2) SCENE OF CRASH: The aircraft DV979 crashed in position R801867 (Military Grid Reference). Part of the aircraft struck the roof of the Wheelwright's shop (See exhibit 'C' [not shown here]) and crashed on the shore of the other side of the road.


(3) Fire occured directly after aircraft struck. There were at least 9 of the crew alive after the aircraft had come to rest but only three survived the explosion of the depth charges [subsequent to the crash].


(4) The wind had backed and increased between the time of plotting the flight and the time aircraft left patrol on the return to base. Although no check had been made on this and no attempt made to recall aircraft earlier, it was reasonable to suppose that diversion bases were open and that sufficient fuel remained to reach these bases.
[In fact, the aircraft lacked sufficient fuel for a diversion (Ed.)]


(5) The S.E. aerials were crossed although the Form 700 showed the aircraft serviceable.



NOTE: Remarks above shown in italics are not part of the official text.




[RAF Accident Report kindly provided by Alan Thomson.]




Aircraft Crew Casualties / Survivors



Nine airmen died in this accident and three survived. Those who died were:


  • P/O Wallace Arthur Johnston, J/17427 / 99572, 2nd Pilot, RCAF.
    (Buried, Grave 646, Bowmore New Parish Churchyard, Isle of Islay.)

  • Sgt Walter Eric Charles Heath (27), 655954, Nav/Bomber, RAF.
    (Buried, Plot U, Row 3, Grave 24, Portsmouth (Milton) Cemetery.)

  • Sgt George Charles Major (20), 658534, Obs., RAF.
    (Buried, Section A, Grave 1865, Chislehurst Cemetery, Kent.)

  • Sgt Douglas Howarth (23), 653262, Flt Engr., RAF.
    (Buried, Section 2E, C. of E., Grave 129, Liverpool (Allerton) Cemetery.)

  • Sgt Henry John Tasker (29), 1376397, W.op/Air Gnr., RAFVR.
    (Buried, Screen Wall, Square 241, Collective Grave 108013, City of London Cemetery and Crematorium, Manor Park, Essex.)

  • Sgt William Simpson (21), 1067773, Flt Engr., RAFVR.
    (Buried, Section G, Old Ground, Grave 33, Consett Blackhill and Blackhill Old Cemetery, Durham.)

  • Sgt George Cyril Phillips (32), 1214033, Air Gnr., RAFVR.
    (Buried, Grave 1858, Clowne (St. John the Baptist) Churchyard, Derbyshire.)

  • Sgt Ernest Geoff Palmer (25), 401718, W.op/Air Gnr., RAAF.
    (Buried, Grave 645, Bowmore New Parish Churchyard, Isle of Islay.)

  • Sgt Roy John Jabour (22), 402956, W.op/Air Gnr., RAAF.
    (Buried, Grave 644, Bowmore New Parish Churchyard, Isle of Islay.)



(Please click on the hyperlinked names above for further details at the Commonwealth War Grave Commission's website.)




Those airmen who survived (with injuries) were:


    Capt Eric John Lever, 102439, 1st Pilot, SAAF.


    Sgt G Hogg, 985071, W/OM, RAF.


    Sgt J I Williams, 1415153, FM/E /Air Gnr., RAF.






Crash Site Photos


At the moment, there are no crash site photos for this aircraft. However, photos of the Memorial can be seen below.




BELOW: The Memorial to the crew of Sunderland DV979 which crashed at Black Rock on the Isle of Islay.


The Memorial to the crew of Sunderland DV979 which crashed at Black Rock on the Isle of Islay.


Photo: © 2015 Pete Griffiths



BELOW: Closer view of the Sunderland aircraft image on the Memorial.


Closer view of the Sunderland aircraft image on the Memorial.



The inscription above the aircraft image reads:


"Dedicated to the nine members of Coastal Command who lost their lives
when their Short Sunderland Mk III DV979F of 246 Squadron crashed
at this spot on 24 January 1943."


The inscription below the aircraft image reads:


"Inspired by Squadron Leader Alan W Deller DFC 246 Squadron
and erected by the Museum of Islay Life."



Photo: © 2015 Pete Griffiths



BELOW: An enlargement of the plaque listing the names of the nine crew members.


An enlargement of the plaque listing the names of the nine crew members.


Photo: © 2015 Pete Griffiths



BELOW: The Memorial shown in relation to Loch Indaal.


The Memorial shown in relation to the Islay coastline and background.


Photo: © 2015 Pete Griffiths






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Crash Date / Site



Accident Date: 24 Jan 1943


Accident Site:

Black Rock

(Isle of Islay)


Nearest road: A846.


Region: Argyll and Bute (Argyll)


Nearest towns or villages:



Military Grid Ref. R801867


OS Grid Ref. N/A


GPS Ref: N/A


Present Condition: Almost all wreckage has been removed. A Memorial stone can be seen near the crash site.




Aircraft Details



Registration or Serial: DV979


Operator: RAF (246 Squadron Coastal Command)


Operating Station:  

RAF Bowmore / Loch Indaal


Station Location: Loch Indaal, Bowmore, Isle of Islay.


Current Station Status: Closed (1946) and disused.




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