Photograph of Beinn Edra plane crash pilot published

MORE than 72 years after a plane crash in Staffin which killed nine airmen, a photograph of the pilot has emerged.

The name of Lt. Paul M. Overfield, Jr was added to the Staffin War Memorial in 2015 along with those of his stricken US air force colleagues who died in the crash at Beinn Edra, the highest point on the Trotternish Ridge.

The smash, on a foggy spring day in March 1941, shocked the island community and claimed the lives of nine young men who were on their maiden flight in the warplane en route to a RAF base in Wales after departing from the US via Iceland.

A close relative of Lt Overfield has provided a picture of Lt Overfield after reading about the Staffin community’s efforts to mark the 70th anniversary of the disaster, which occurred only months before the end of the Second World War. 

A special commemoration event was held to mark the anniversary and a permanent plaque with the crew’s names was inscribed and added to the memorial, joining the Staffin men from the Boer and First and Second World Wars who also made the ultimate sacrifice. The plaque states in Gaelic, ‘Gan cuimhneachadh’ –  ‘Remembering Them.’  

Paul Overfield is the first name on the plaque.

Douglas E. Overfield, who lives in Arizona, got in touch after reading about the commemoration on the Staffin Community Trust website. http://staffin-trust.co.uk/beinn-edra-disaster He believes the pilot was his cousin and and sent a picture of a cutting from a local newspaper, which is published below. 

In an e-mail, Mr Overfield wrote, “I am the cousin of Lt. Paul M. Overfield, Jr. who was the pilot of the Flying Fortress.  Paul Jr. was my father’s nephew. My family, or I should say, we three brothers, Stan, Paul and I, knew very little of the fate of Paul Jr.  I was so excited when I Googled his name and found his story. It was very rewarding to read all that you have done to honour the crew. I so wish I had known about the 70th anniversary tribute. We would have loved to have attended. 

“Paul’s sister, Betty Foote, is still living and is now 85. She has a letter that was written to the family before Paul Jr. left Iceland. It must sound strange to you that we know so little about the crash since Betty is still alive.  I think it’s because the ‘Greatest Generation’ doesn’t talk about their tragedies. Thank you to all the community for what they have done to honour these men.  I know the departed members of our family are looking down on you with grateful hearts.”

Lt Paul Overfield Jnr

Mr Overfield said he and his family would like to visit Staffin in the next few years to view the memorial plaque and Beinn Edra. He added: “Robert Hosier, my cousin on my mom’s side, also lost his uncle, Charles A. Keiper, Jr., in a B17 mission (44th) over German sub pens in Toulon, France on Febuary 4, 1944. Paul Jr. and Charles Jr. were from the same small town, East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania . Our families, and town, endured a lot of heartache as did many others. We hope to be able to visit both Staffin and Toulon.”

In the newspaper picture caption, it states: “Lieut Paul M. Overfiield. Son of Mr and Mrs Paul M. Overfield of 1222 West Main Street, Stroudsburg, who lost his life in a plane crash somewhere in the “American Theatre of War” on March 3. 

“A bomber pilot, the 20-year-old young man is believed to have been en route overseas having written his family from Iceland just a week before March 3.”

Skye minister, Rev Rory MacLeod, a former Commando chaplain, led the commemoration 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 young 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.