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10 January, 2008

The Mysterious Longdendale Valley - 2

The Mysterious Longdendale Valley - 1 described a peculiar nocturnal light phenomenon, which has been witnessed in the Longdendale Valley and the surrounding peaks, for many generations. But unexplained nocturnal lights are not the only mystery to manifest in this beautiful, bleak and often eerie region of the Peak District, in north-west England. Many witnesses have described sightings of peculiar aircraft, often during daylight hours, performing dangerous manoeuvres. The emergency services have been frequently alerted to apparent plane crashes, by multiple witnesses. Yet searches of the area revealed none of the telltale signs of a recent crash and no aircraft were reported missing. So exactly what did the witnesses see?

There have literally been hundreds of reports in the last half century or so, of so-called ghost planes flying over the Longdendale Valley and the craggy peaks which surround it. They have been witnessed by a diverse range of people: day trippers, hikers, climbers, farmers and emergency service personnel, to name but a few. As mentioned in The Mysterious Longdendale Valley - 1, the crags around Longdendale are littered with the mangled, rusted remains of numerous air crashes, most of which occurred during the Second World War. Some of the wrecks pre-date the war, and a number have occurred since.

Rumours of a ghost plane haunting the region initially surfaced following the crash of two military jet fighters, on July 22nd 1954. The planes disappeared over the peaks, and the wreckage was discovered three days later by hikers. The cause of the crash baffled officials, and remains a mystery even today, especially as both pilots were very experienced, and their planes were brand new. Transcripts still exist of the radio conversations between the pilots, immediately before the accident. They had become lost in low cloud, and part of the conversation went as follows:

Pilot 1: Where are we?
Pilot 2: I’m not sure.

At that moment, it seems the second pilot saw a third plane.

Pilot 2: Just follow the other jet through the cloud.

They were to be his last words. Authorities established that no other planes were known to be airborne in the region at the time. In recent times, many people have attributed the crash to a ghost plane luring the pilots to their deaths. It is equally possible that another, real plane was flying unauthorised, and was fortunate enough to emerge from the clouds unscathed. But the people of Longdendale may have good reason to believe otherwise.

On 18 May 1945, six crew on board a Royal Canadian Air Force Lancaster bomber died when their aircraft smashed into an outcrop known as James's Thorn, on Bleaklow, high above the Longdendale Valley. The tragedy occurred when the pilot became disorientated in thick fog, and failed to spot the peaks looming ahead. Three years later, a US Air Force B-29 Superfortress became lost in low cloud and crashed in a fireball at Higher Shelf Stones, at the summit of Bleaklow. All thirteen crew members died. Wreckage from the crash still lies at the site, and each year, local people climb up to to pay their respects to the dead. A simple commemorative shrine and plaque marks their passing, and when the mists descend, the location is said to assume a distinctly eerie atmosphere. It is little wonder, given the area's atmosphere and history, that rumours abound of phantom airmen haunting crash sites, as well as sightings phantom aircraft overhead.

The excellent article, Ghost Fliers, by Dr. David Clarke, relates how veteran aviation historian Ron Collier, despite being sceptical about tales of ghost planes, confessed to being disturbed by experiences for which he could find no conventional scientific explanation. Dr. Clarke quotes Mr. Collier as saying: 'There has to be a logical explanation, but in my research I have repeatedly come up against the paranormal. There is a force which governs the moors. You can feel it. And the scores of sightings of ghostplanes only back that up. Something is going on, and it is very difficult to explain what.'

Ron went on to recount the experience of his friend, fellow historian Gerald Scarratt, who as a child, witnessed the aftermath of a plane crash on Bleaklow in 1948. Twenty five years later, Gerald took his son to the crash site, where the wreck remained. He decided to dig around in the soil with his hands, and found a gold ring engraved with the name Langdon P. Tanner - the plane's captain. When news of his discovery got out, a group of aviation enthusiasts asked Gerald to take them to the spot where he found the ring. When he took the group to the crash site on Bleaklow, he bent down to show them where he discovered the ring. He looked up almost immediately, to see his companions fleeing. He said: 'I bent down to show them where I had found the ring and when I looked up they had scarpered ... they were ashen-faced. They ... had seen someone standing behind me, looking down and dressed in full flying uniform. I told them I had seen nothing, but they said: "We've all seen him, thanks for taking us up, but we are going." And I have never seen or heard from them again.'

A retired railwayman, John Davies, also witnessed a ghost flier above the peaks near his home in the Longdendale Valley, as well as relating another, far more eerie story to Ron Collins. He and a friend retrieved pieces of an old plane from a nearby crash site, and stored them in a garage close to their Longdendale homes. They were in the garage late one night, when they were terrorised by the sound of a large beast sniffing and patrolling around the outside of the building. They said the sounds resembled some kind of big cat, possibly a lion. Years later, John said of the incident: 'My father didn't believe in ghosts. But he said to me: "There's only one thing I can say - I'd get rid of those bits of Perspex if I were you." So I took it right up t'moors and buried it.'

Ron also relates how a local nurse and some friends had toyed with a ouija board, to help pass time during her night shift. Terrified, she recounted to Ron the message the ouija board had spelled out: 'Where we are now, we are not at rest'. The nurse continued her account by naming the 'we' - she gave Ron the names of all the crewmen killed in the Superfortress crash mentioned above. Ron apparently told her to seek help from a priest, which she apparently did.

Another person left mystified by the region's ghostly aviators, was Tony Ingle, a holidaymaker at a caravan park near the Longdendale valley. As he walked his dog along a leafy country lane, Tony was startled to see what he described as a World War II aircraft around fifty feet overhead. He said the whole scene was very eerie. Despite being able to see the propellers turning, he heard nothing. As the plane descended lower and lower, Tony realised, with horror, that the plane was about to crash. It tried to execute a turn and then appeared to come down in a field, just beyond a hedge. He raced along the lane, expecting to find a crashed aircraft in the field, but the plane had completely disappeared. An eerie, unnatural silence added to his sense of unease.

Although Tony has returned to the location many times since, his dog refuses to go near the field where the apparition appeared to crash. If Tony tries to drag the dog past the field on its leash, the animal simply slips its collar and retreats. Prior to this incident, Tony was a sceptic about paranormal phenomena, but has since reconsidered his stance : 'I have racked my brains for a logical explanation but I can't find one. I can't explain it; I saw that plane all right, and it disappeared before my eyes.'

Interestingly, Dr. David Clarke relates how aviation historians, after reading detailed reports of the incident, say the aircraft sounds very much like a WW2 C-47 Dakota or possibly, a Wellington bomber. Dr. Clarke points out that both types of aircraft had crashed in the region, with a Dakota having smashed into Bleaklow, high above Longdendale, killing all seven men aboard, in July 1945. The Tony Ingle case was investigated by a documentary crew, who established that one of twelve remaining Dakotas was airborne that day, but 150 miles away.

The ghostly planes and airmen of the Longdendale Valley represent just a small sample of the hundreds of reports of such phenomena, witnessed right across the Peak District. Although such events are beyond the scope of this article, more information is provided in the Dr. Clarke article which is linked above.

Are people really seeing ghostly airmen and their phantom planes in and above the Longdendale Valley? Sceptics would argue that people are merely seeing vintage aircraft being flown by aviation enthusiasts. Yet, no such planes were known to be in the area at the times of these sightings. Aviation laws compel pilots to let authorities know when they will be airborne, and where, even if they're just taking a twenty minute pleasure flight. And what of the "crash" witnessed by Tony Ingle? How could an unwieldy vintage aircraft, which was just feet from the ground when last seen, be gone in a matter of seconds? Nothing we have today can do that, much less a plane of such vintage. In the absence of any adequate, mundane explanations for these events, it looks as if the Longdendale Valley may hold on to its mysteries for some time to come.


Dragonstar 14 January 2008 at 16:42  

These are fascinating stories, most of which I've not heard before. Thank you so much for gathering them together for us.

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