On March 3, 1945, a B-17 Flying Fortress crashed during fog at Beinn Edra – the highest point on the Trotternish Ridge – in Staffin.
The smash, in early Saturday afternoon, shocked the island community and claimed the lives of nine young American men who were on their maiden flight in the warplane en route to a RAF base in Wales after departing from America.
In March 2015 the Staffin community gathered to mark the 70th anniversary of the tragic plane crash which occurred only months before the end of the Second World War. A special commemoration event, which was backed by relatives of the crew, saw a permanent plaque with the victims’ names inscribed, unveiled and which was later erected to the Staffin War Memorial. It is a modest plaque in keeping with the character of the memorial and the crew join Staffin men from the Boer and First and Second World Wars who made the ultimate sacrifice. The plaque states in Gaelic, ‘Gan cuimhneachadh’ – ‘Remembering Them.’
Skye minister, Rev Rory MacLeod, a former Commando chaplain, led a service at the Columba 1400 Centre attended by around 90 people, which included a minute’s silence. The North Skye branch of the Royal British Legion paraded the colours and teenage Kilmuir piper Eoghainn Beaton played a lament. The commemoration, which was jointly organised by the Staffin Community Council and Staffin Commuity Trust, included a small exhibition about the disaster and a talk by aviation archaeologist Dr Terence Christian, of Glasgow University, who has investigated the site.
Dr Christian told the audience that the crew would have known of their fate about five seconds before the smash. “As an American myself, the Staffin community’s devotion to remembering the airmen as individuals is especially touching,” he said. “The commemoration events for the Beinn Edra B-17 crash are a credit to the Staffin community’s long-standing concern for the continuation of the American aircrew’s memory.”
Rev MacLeod presided over the commemoration, assisted by Rev John Murray, the Staffin Church of Scotland minister. John Angus MacDonald, formerly of Glasphein in Staffin but now living in Kirkhill, near Inverness, unveiled the plaque. John Angus was a boy rabbiting near Beinn Edra when the crash occurred although he was too young to be involved in the rescue attempts by local men. Another Staffin boy on the day of the crash was Lachie Gillies, from Stenscholl, who saw the plane fly overhead just seconds before the sickening impact. Lachie said a Gaelic prayer at the commemoration, which was covered on BBC Alba’s An La programme, Radio Nan Gaidheal and also featured in the West Highland Free Press, The Press & Journal, The Herald and The Scotsman. Some images from the commemoration, of the fallen crew and wreckage are below, while two articles which appeared in the WHFP, are also published and can be read by clicking on the links. Thank you to the WHFP for allowing their use.