In my previous Blogs Ghosts of the Gooney Bird, I showed pictures of crashed, lost and derelict Douglas C-47’s/ DC-3’s/ Dakotas.
Most of them are lost forever, doomed to stay where they are and slowly deteriorating. In the (semi) arctic conditions of the North that can take quite some time and the aluminium skin of the aircraft can remain pretty well conserved.
When warmer or salty conditions prevail, the process of rotting away can go much faster. In rare cases, the crashing of the aircraft is not caused by technical failure or pilot error, but by sheer bad luck or “driver error”.
This particular aircraft has a long and well-documented career, built in 1944 in Oklahoma, it was delivered to the USAAF on 24 April 1945 and soon after the war it ended up with the French Air Force and later Air France.
The plane became a cargo transport, flying over Europe and North Africa and at the end of its active life, the aircraft became a Museum Display in Belgium. First as Gate Guard in the Ardennes Victory Museum in Arlon, Belgium, later as a show piece of the “Wings of Liberation” Museum in Best, Holland.
One day in Sept 2010, a novel Musical Production started up in a hangar of former Naval Air Station Valkenburg, 10 miles out from The Hague, Holland in which a starring role was foreseen for this aircraft.
The Dakota would be playing in a marvellous act, in which the Hangar doors would open, and the aircraft would come in view right in front. The 1100 spectators sitting on a rotating auditorium inside that Hangar would watch in awe the ‘live’ act of a real C-47 rolling into their show from the outdoor platform.
So far, so good, but now enter the Gremlins.
The transport from Brabant to Valkenburg was well prepared and would take place by night with police escorts, in order to make room for the 6+ meter wide road transport. The fuselage and central wing section were coupled so the two engine nacelles were hanging over the truck’s lowloader sides as outriggers.
All fly overs, tunnels and bridges were well checked for the clearance of this “Convoy Exceptionel”, but in the very last flyover, just a few miles from its end destination, fate struck, resulting in a terrible crash of the aircraft.
Why this could happen, will remain food for long and hot discussions, but the fact is that the bridge had three concrete walls, two on the sides of the four lane highway and one in the middle. You can hardly guess what made the drama happen.
In the books and data acquired from the Road Management Agency, the distance between outer and central wall was written as 6,80 m or so, while the reality proved to be more crushing than anticipated from the files.
The story goes that they had stopped at nearly all bridges to check the clearances given before passing, but a their very last fly over, as they smelled the coffee and the end station come close, they just rode on and trashed the Dakota on the lowloader in a matter of seconds.
The left-hand engine nacelle hit the central concrete wall, which made the total aircraft jackknife on the lowloader. In the process, the central wing section tore apärt from the fuselage, trashing the airframe.
The walls were built under the German Occupation in WWII, and it is likely that they used ´Atlantik Wall` materials for this. This wall did not give yield a single inch when the old Gooney Bird came flying in low & slow.
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