Having switched days from Saturday to Sunday due to the forecast extreme gale force conditions, a total of 8 of us gathered in Keiloch car park for an early start. Chris, Sandy, Bob, Gillie, Ruth, Steve, Graham N and Jeff left the car park on our bikes to head off up the Slugain to start our mission.
I had read about the wreckage of a World War II aeroplane located on a remote spur NE of the summit of Beinn a Bhuird in the book “The Cairngorms: A Secret History” by Patrick Baker. From the photo in the book this wasn’t just some scraps of old fuselage, the remains of the 2 substantial engines were still in place where the aircraft had crashed. I immediately became fascinated with the ill-fated story of the flight and the RAF Airspeed AS.10 Oxford Mk II registration PH404. I became determined to locate the crash site so organized this day trip as after all how hard could it be to find?
The day started well and after cycling 7km up the glen we were lucky enough to catch a few rays of sunshine by the ruins of Slugain Lodge.
Since strong northerly winds were forecast we decided to head up the Allt Dhearg glen rather than fight the weather on the Beinn a Bhuird plateau.
By Clach a Cleirich rock on the way up to the Sneck.
Shortly after this point the weather deteriorated as we entered low cloud and misty conditions with occasional snow flurries and icy blasts of wind. Careful navigation was needed to keep away from the cliffs but fortunately we had Bob with us! After reaching the plateau we headed north east towards Stob-an t-Sluichd with the cliffs of Garbh Choire on our right. Although I didn’t have a precise grid reference for the crash area I knew it had been coming from the north so must therefore be located on the northern or north-western slopes of the ridge. The cloud hampered the visibility but after all how difficult could it be to locate?
We traversed the rocky ridge to the end of the spur and scanned the slopes for any sign of wreckage. I had an image of the engines from the photograph I had seen in the book in my mind and every so often my hopes were raised when I saw 2 distinctive frosty shapes. Sadly they always turned out to be just large boulders, of which there were many. We continued to search around to no avail and time was beginning to get on – we had a long return journey and daylight hours were limited. I had pretty much given up hope of finding the wreckage as we started back in the direction of Beinn A Bhuird. Suddenly I saw two shapes looming up in the distance and thankfully this time they weren’t boulders it was the crash site!
More info can be found on the website www.aircrashsites-scotland.co.uk/oxford_b-a-bhuird.htm and also www.archieraf.co.uk/scs/oxfordph404.html for those interested. Some information on the tragic last flight of PH404 is included below.
“On 10th January 1945, this Mark II Airspeed Oxford took off from RAF Tain in north-east Scotland. On board were a Czech crew, including three pilots. These, and some other airmen, had completed their tour of duty and were flying south to RAF Hornchurch for a break in London. Also on board was a fourth pilot who had been assigned to fly the aircraft back to RAF Tain from Hornchurch.
The Oxford trainer left Tain in good weather and cloudless conditions. However, before long, communications with the aircraft were lost. Eventually, when the aircraft failed to arrive at Hornchurch and had not been reported at any other airfield, a search began. No trace of the Oxford could be found, however, and initially it was believed that it had crashed into the sea.
Over 7 months later—on 19th August 1945—two hill walkers came across the wreckage of the Airspeed Oxford almost on the summit of Stob an t-Sluichd while climbing the Beinn a' Bhuird range in the Cairngorms. Only then was the fate of the aircraft realised and the recovery of the missing airmen's bodies commenced.”
The names of the aircrew who perished are;
Sqn Ldr Karel Kvapil (26), Pilot
F/O Leo Linhart (32), Pilot
F/O Jan Vella DFC (39), Pilot
F/O Valter Kauders (26), Wireless Operator / Air Gunner
W/O Rudolph Jelen (22), Pilot
The airmen's bodies were laid to rest in Brookwood Military Cemetery (Czech Section) in Woking, Surrey.
Sadly it does appear that if the plane had been only a few metres higher it would have cleared the ridge completely.
We returned over the North Top of Beinn a Bhuird (1197m) …
...and then to the new South Top (1179m), labeled as A’ Chioch on my older OS map. We passed the cairn of the old South Top (1177m) before descending via the scree covered slopes of Carn Fiaclach.
It’s always a relief to find the bikes still where we left them and the return journey to Keiloch was very quick but darkness had fallen by the time we got back to the cars. It had been a very long and tiring day covering 41 km (15km cycle, 26 km walking) and 1300m of ascent in 9.5 hours according to Jeff's Strava, but extremely rewarding.
PS: For future searchers of wreckage I can reveal the OS grid reference to be 110022 – not at all where I expected it to be!