Each spring, my mountain rescue team (North East Wales Search And Rescue) go on-call for an evening and night looking after our neighbouring area, while the resident team (Ogwen Valley Mountain Rescue Organisation) have their annual dinner dance – it’s a good arrangement and Oggie team return the favour by looking after our ‘patch’ when NEWSAR have their Christmas ‘do’.
It’s also a great opportunity to go over to visit Oggie Base, and several NEWSAR members are to be found there during the day, either depleting Oggie’s tea and coffee stocks or going off into the mountains of the Ogwen Valley. There’s a limit to how much caffeine I can get through in a day, so I had brought boots and rucksack along for the trip.
None of my hill days would be complete without Border Collie ‘Mist’, and she soon became restless sitting around Oggie Base being fussed – a walk was clearly indicated, but the weather forecast was dire! Winds of 50-60 mph were predicted, with gusts over 70 mph – I love the mountains of the Carneddau, but making progress high up in those conditions was not going to be fun. In the end I decided on a more sheltered trip into Cwm Lloer to visit some air-crash sites.
* * *
On 29 September 1968, a Cessna 370 aircraft left Leavesden in Hertfordshire to fly to Blackpool. The pilot was flying on instruments due to bad weather conditions, but for some reason the aircraft deviated from the planned route and flew into the mountain of Carnedd Dafydd, killing the pilot.
Modern wrecks are usually cleared within a matter of days, as was the Cessna site. There was allegedly an engine block still at the site, but the book recording air accidents in the hills of the UK only gives 6-figure map references, which are only accurate to 100 metres. I didn’t waste too much time looking for a lump of steel whilst gale-force winds pushed me round the hillside, and I turned instead towards the slopes of Pen yr Ole Wen.
On the 18th August 1943 a Lockheed Ventura of 464 Squadron of the Royal Australian Air Force flew from RAF Sculthorpe on a night navigation exercise. The aircraft crashed into Carnedd Dafydd at 2238hrs – the weather was recorded as being fine and the reasons for the crash are not clear. The crew of four all died in the crash – unusually for an Australian aircraft, three of the crew were Canadian.
Three months later, on the evening of the 8 November 1943, an Avro Anson took off from RAF Halfpenny Green in Staffordshire for a night navigation exercise passing over Rhyl, Conwy, the Isle of Man and Bridgenorth before returning to Base. The aircraft was plotted at one point by the Royal Observer Corps on a route that appeared to be a direct track from Wrexham to Conwy. This should not have taken the aircraft into the mountains, but on the night there was a 15 mph wind blowing from the northwest which caused the aircraft to drift south. At around 2030hrs the aircraft crashed into the slopes of Pen yr Ole Wen, killing the crew of five which included one Australian, one Canadian and three Britons.
The two accidents were in no way connected, though the impact points were only 550 metres apart. Because Cwm Lloer is a bowl shape, gravity took over and the two wrecks tumbled down the hillside to come to rest in exactly the same location, near to the lake of Ffynnon Lloer. There is little to see now, as souvenir hunters have removed much of what remained.
It was time to head back to Oggie Base. Myself and four other NEWSAR members were staying there overnight, looking forward to a quiet night of telling jokes and tall tales. In the Ogwen Valley the night drew in and the laybys and parking areas emptied. Except for one car ….
* * *
Whilst we were finishing our chicken curry and pizza, a group of three young men were struggling to escape the gale force winds on the Carneddau Plateau. They had set off from Abergwyngregyn (Aber) that morning, intending to cross the plateau from north to south heading for their car at Ogwen. (I did a slightly longer route the other way round in September 2014 – see post #160). As the wind was from the southwest, they would have been sheltered from the worst of the weather until they gained the plateau.
The map shows the intended route in blue, with dashes showing the route actually covered. Somewhere between Foel Grach and Carnedd Llewelyn they decided to ‘bail out’ to escape the wind. Their escape route into Cwm Eigiau (shown in red) was sensible and safe, though it added another 10kms to a route that was already 20kms in length. By 2000hrs they had run out of light and then run out of steam – they took shelter near the dam at Llyn Cowlyd and phoned for help.
Back at Oggie Base, we left the washing up for later. It was a long drive round from Ogwen to Llyn Cowlyd, but a narrow road up from Trefriw and a good track meant that we could drive most of the way to the group – a short walk out soon had them in the Landrover. Back at Oggie base they told us their story – their navigation had been accurate, and the escape route they decided on was safe in every respect, though a little on the long side.
The only error they made was failing to realise how difficult it is to walk into 60 mph winds, but that only comes with experience and let’s face it you only get experience by having experiences! The group got themselves warmed up before being dropped off at their car, while we settled down again at Oggie Base to continue our attack on the stock of coffee.
Text and images © Paul Shorrock
p.s. Some people find the remains of the aircraft crashes macabre, others find them untidy. For me they are part of the history of our mountains, in the same way as the stone circles, abandoned settlements, disused quarries and similar relics. If visiting crash-sites, please show respect and care – some wrecks occasionally have live ammunition nearby, and a small number of sites are classed as War Graves due to the difficulty of finding all human remains.