Review of ‘Peakland Air Crashes, The North’, by Pat Cunningham

This review is by Julie Bunting, and was published originally in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 12th February 2007, and is reproduced with Julie's kind permission.

PEAKLAND AIR CRASHES - THE NORTH
Pat Cunningham

This new publication from Landmark completes a series of three volumes compiled by Pat Cunningham. In total, he has covered 306 Peakland aircrash sites and over 300 individual aircraft, providing precise map references with every available detail down to official investigations. Each narrative concludes with a description of the crash site in 2006, a good number still marked by debris.

The Northern volume contains 118 events, each location verified by repeated site visits. The author has spoken to eye-witnesses, several now in their nineties, and tracked down hundreds of photographs. Some images date from the early days of flying, such as aviatrix Miss Winifred Sawley Brown posing beside her biplane - a birthday present from her father. Sadly this aircraft was later involved in a fatality during a publicity stunt.

Pat Cunningham is as strong on human interest as on flying history, whether in footnotes about the victims or in tales of derring-do and the many close shaves. Particularly poignant is the story of a watch, found and returned to the family of an Australian pilot killed on Kinder Scout half a century earlier. The noticably cosmopolitan cast includes airmen from the USA, Canada, Poland, Australia, New Zealand, Belgium and Iceland.

The unforgiving Kinder plateau is littered with aircraft wrecks from operational and training losses, some civilian but many of them wartime fatalities. The body of one missing pilot lay undiscovered for a full month. Put simply, a lost pilot flying at night or in cloud and relying on an altimeter reading of, say, 2,000 ft (the altimeter having been set to airfield elevation at take-off) would have no idea that he was skimming terrain about to exceed 2,000 ft above sea level. Thus we read: '... the operating pilot saw, rushing towards him through the enveloping mist ... rough moorland where only sky had been expected; moorland which, despite an instant application of full power and even brutish back pressure on the stick, so rapidly outlimbed the bomber that the aircraft struck heavily, and proceeded to disintegrate ...' The outcome appears as something of a miracle.

Pat Cunningham, himself an aviator of 40 years' standing, treats his research with enormous empathy while meeting his declared objective that 'This series aims to set a benchmark.' It is unlikely ever to be bettered.

Peakland Air Crashes, the North is published by Landmark Collector's Library at £14.99. On sale locally, ISBN 13: 978-1-84306-330-8

Review by Julie Bunting


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