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WHEEL MEET AGAIN; AIRLIFT FOR CRASH LANCASTER.

Byline: Mark Smith

A GIANT wheel and wreckage from a World War II bomber which has lain on a Scottish hillside for 65 years has finally been taken "home".

Lancaster PD259 crashed during a training flight over the Highlands in 1944, killing its entire crew of seven.

And this week, the remains were salvaged from Balavil Estate - which featured in TV's Monarch Of The Glen - and returned to its wartime base.

RAF Griffin helicopters carried the debris - spread over 10 square kilometres of hillside - to the side of the A9, north of Kingussie, for recovery.

The wreckage included one of the main undercarriage wheels and perfectly preserved fuselage panels.

The fragments were put on to trucks and returned to RAFWaddington in Lincolnshire, where they will go on display.

Flight Lieutenant Greg Kevan said it was an emotional moment for his team to finally remove the aircraft from the windswept hillside.

Sprog

He said: "This debris has been lying undisturbed for 65 years, so it is quite poignant to finally see it recovered.

"It will an emotional moment to see it returning home."

Drivers on the A9 thought they were witnessing a crash scene when they saw the recovery operation.

One said: "There was a massive wheel being loaded on to a truck, which looked like it had dropped from the sky."

Flight engineer Warrant Officer George Middleton, 37, from Glasgow, was among the crew from the Royal Australian Air Force. The Australian airmen are buried at the Commonwealth cemetery in Cambridge, whileWO Middleton was laid to rest in Rutherglen Cemetery.

The Lancaster is believed to have broken up at 10,000 feet on the night of August 31, 1944.

One theory is that the bomber was struck by lightning after encountering a fierce storm over the Highlands.

The aircraft only had 57 flying hours under its belt and was being flown by a "sprog" crew - newly qualified fliers.

It is expected to form a lasting tribute to the crew and 585 other Australians who were killed while serving with 463 & 467 RAAF squadrons at Waddington. A propeller previously recovered by the RAF has already been erected at a memorial on the Balavil estate.

Allan Macpherson-Fletcher, of Balavil estate, said: "We have protected the site for 60-odd years and discouraged any approaches to remove parts.

"This has been out of respect for the dead men."

An RAF spokesman added: "The family have safeguarded the wreckage all these years from scavengers. And, from the service's point of view, we cannot thank them enough."

CAPTION(S):

GOING HOME: RAF men get set to load the giant wheel on to a truck near the A9. Right, one of the helicopters
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jun 26, 2009
Words:446
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