Out & About …

… on the North York Moors, or wherever I happen to be.

27th April 1979 — A Tragic Day in Lealholm

A tear in the clouds allowed a ray of sun to grace Lealholm Side, a hamlet perched a few hundred metres above the main village of Lealholm in the Esk valley.

Back on Friday 27th April 1979, the village was buzzing with activity. The school had full attendance, its corridors echoing with youthful enthusiasm.

Around 9:40 that morning, the rumbling engine of a US Air Force F-4 Phantom II jet, stationed at RAF Alconbury, sputtered into silence during its low-altitude manoeuvres. Eyes caught sight of ominous flames dancing at the tail end of the aircraft, a sight that sent shivers through the hearts of onlookers. It was then that the pilot found himself in the unenviable position of executing an emergency landing1Newcastle Evening Chronicle | Friday 27 April 1979. Britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk <https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0000726/19790427/001/0001> [accessed 27 August 2023].

Major Schuyler, a man of 33 years, and Navigator Lieutenant Wheeler, younger at 25, both belonging to the 501st Combat Support Wing, displayed remarkable courage. Their actions spared the village from calamity as they managed to steer clear of its houses. Alas, both crew members were killed in the accident, but thankfully, there were no casualties amongst the villagers, though a few innocent creatures grazing nearby met an untimely end.

The crew, Major Donald Lee Schuyler and 1st Lt. Thomas Wheeler, were stalwarts of the 1st Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron. Their mission on that fateful day involved collecting reconnaissance photographs, a task that led them to skim the rugged expanse of North Yorkshire Moors at a daringly low altitude. Accounts suggest that Schuyler’s guiding hand manoeuvred the plane with a deftness that steered it away from the village and the local school, ensuring the safety of the villagers.

In honour of the courage demonstrated by these two airmen, the local residents erected a stone memorial near the site of the tragic crash, on Lealholm Bank. The memorial stands as a testimony to their valour.

The trajectory of the Phantom jet’s ill-fated flight would have brushed close to Danby Beacon, from where I took the photograph, before meeting its catastrophic end to the right of the hamlet, somewhere around the small gap between the houses.

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