Emotional airfield reunion

SIXTY years ago Dutchman Cornelius Ellen witnessed the dying moments of an injured American airman who bailed out of his plane into the sea.Yesterday, the 76-year-old came face to face for the first time with the airman's younger brother, Mike Darter, at an emotional meeting at Horham Airfield, near Eye.

SIXTY years ago Dutchman Cornelius Ellen witnessed the dying moments of an injured American airman who bailed out of his plane into the sea.

Yesterday, the 76-year-old came face to face for the first time with the airman's younger brother, Mike Darter, at an emotional meeting at Horham Airfield, near Eye.

Mr Ellen was able to give him a first-hand account of how his brother died on a foggy December day in 1943.

The meeting was marked by a spitfire flypast at the airfield, which was hosting an open day.


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Eugene Darter and fellow members of the crew bailed out into what they believed was almost certain death in the middle of the North Sea after their B17 aircraft was shot down by the Germans.

But ironically, they were over Texel Island. If the tide had been out, Eugene, like other members of his crew, would probably have lived to tell the tale.

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As it was, he was badly injured in his right arm after their plane took a direct hit.

He was patched up by another airman who administered morphine to him. He was then strapped into a parachute, which was placed on him upside down so that he would be able to pull the cord with his left hand, and was first to bail out of the craft, followed shortly afterwards by other members of the crew.

Mr Ellen, then just a boy of 17, watched as he landed in the sea. At first he was all right, and the Dutch youth rushed to find a boat to rescue him. But unable to take off his parachute with only one hand, the wind picked it up again dragging him under in its wake.

Ironically, the other members of the crew who bailed out of the Lonesome Polecat II landed on dry land and survived – although they were taken prisoner by the occupying German forces.

"He called out of the air: 'Help me! Help me! It was strange. He did not do anything," he explained. "Very quick I tried to get a small boat."

He was about 200m out to sea. Mr Ellen saw him waiting for the boat, the parachute opened and he was gone.

"Until today I have still got the sound of the man and what happened in a few minutes," he said.

Mr Darter, a professor at the University of Illinois, was just a babe-in-arms when his brother died, although Eugene was given leave and saw his baby brother before he was shipped out to England.

He said that throughout his life, their father never accepted his brother's death.

It was only recently, once he had heard the accounts of a surviving airman and of Mr Ellen that he himself had been able to mourn him, he said.

"I felt as if he had just died," he said. "After Cornelius called, it was the same feeling."

He started to research what had happened three years ago using the internet, and managed to make contact with surviving members of the crew, including the man who had patched his brother up. He came to know about Mr Ellen through an appeal in a Dutch newspaper.

"He almost made it – he came close," said Mr Darter. "Four members who bailed out after him all survived."

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