Dig uncovers clues to wartime mystery

PAST UNCOVERED: Nick Wotherspoon at the exhibition
PAST UNCOVERED: Nick Wotherspoon at the exhibition

The truth has finally been uncovered about a wartime pilot, who died when his aircraft crashed into a garden near Chorley.

The truth has finally been uncovered about a wartime pilot, who died when his aircraft crashed into a garden near Chorley.

Third Officer Albert Edward (Roy) Fairman was delivering a brand new Mustang fighter aircraft to Ringway, near Manchester, when he had to turn back, due to fog.

His flight back to Glasgow took him across Lancashire, and around 4.10pm on the afternoon of February 15, 1945, the plane appeared to perform a series of shallow dives and rolls before it plummeted into a garden, just metres from a house in Wrightington.

The family who lived there were sitting down to a meal when the plane hit the ground, and they took cover under the table, thinking they were in the middle of an air raid.

The pilot left the aircraft before the impact, and was found alive in a field nearby. But he died in an ambulance on the way to hospital, and it is now known he had tried to use his parachute when he ejected, but it was faulty and he was probably too close to the ground for it to be effective.

Ministry of Defence records state that Third Officer Fairman, who was 23, and an accomplished pilot who had been involved in many battles during the war, was held responsible for the crash.

It is believed that at 18, the pilot was flying bombers on raids over occupied territory and he accumulated more than 500 hours on operational sorties, mainly flying Whitleys and later Lancasters.

Following years of extensive investigations, a Chorley-based aviation expert is convinced the airman was in fact not to blame for the crash, but rather it was caused by a fault in the aircraft.

Nick Wotherspoon from the Lancashire Air Investigation Team began researching the story of Third Officer Fairman some years ago, after discovering the crash site.

After seeking permission from the Ministry of Defence, he convinced the current owners of the house where the aeroplane crashed to allow himself and colleagues to carry out an excavation, and they unearthed the aircraft’s engine, damaged but virtually intact.

It is now on display in Chorley Library, still leaking a little of the original oil, and forms the centrepiece of an exhibition telling the moving story.

Nick said: “It’s wonderful to be able to share what we found with the public, and it was especially satisfying to be able to show Third Officer Fairman’s sisters where the aeroplane crashed.

“They visited the excavation last year and were able to see where their brother had died.

“He was a very talented pilot and this happened towards the end of the war. He was delivering aircraft by then, which was regarded as a safe job, so much so that he decided to get married.

“His widow gave her blessing for our investigation but said it would be too much for her to get involved. One of the most rewarding aspects was to give some form of closure to the Fairman family.

“They were able to see the site and the engine. It was an emotional experience for them.

“It seems the family never believed the reported cause for the crash, particularly after one of Roy’s RAF colleagues visited them after the crash and told them they could discount the official report, as it was well known to his colleagues that he had been forced to bail out of a faulty aircraft.”

Instruments, dials and controls from the aircraft are also on display at the exhibition, which runs until the end of March.