Newmarket: Proof of pilot’s heroic landing found on beach
11:44 05 February 2014
A reminder of the remarkable skill of a Suffolk airman who saved the lives of his crew by ditching his bomber into the sea has been discovered 74 years later.
A huge black rubber tyre has been uncovered on the shore of Cliff End, Fairlight, near Hastings, after storms and high tides swept back decades of sand.
Aviation author and researcher Andy Saunders believes the tyre is almost certainly that of the Wellington bomber which crash-landed less than 100 yards away after running out of fuel returning from a night-time raid on Dusseldorf on November 9, 1940.
Despite landing in poor conditions and in pitch darkness, all six airmen of the N2767, from 99 Squadron based at Newmarket, survived.
Mr Saunders said the plane broke up in the sea and what was left was recovered by the RAF, before being broken up on the shore. He added that he believed the tyre, which has a small hole in it that may have come from flak, must have been left behind.
According to records, the Wellington had been unable to find an aerodrome to land at so the pilot – Sergeant E A Fletcher – made a calculated decision to ditch the plane in the sea.
Mr Saunders explained: “I presume they were too low for the crew to consider bailing out, so the only solution for the pilot was to land in the sea. In the middle of the night you are not going to carry out a forced landing in the countryside and get away with it – you won’t see houses and trees. Getting down on the sea is the best chance of survival.”
Only one of the men was slightly injured – receiving cuts and bruises but not needing hospital attention.
Mr Saunders said: “I would say under the circumstances it was quite a remarkable piece of airmanship to handle the thing in a wintry sea and to get it close enough to the shore for the crew to escape.”
The tyre is now on display at the Wings Aviation Museum of West Sussex.