On the scene: The story from the tragedy appeared in the Bermuda Sun in 1964. Bermuda Sun clipping
On the scene: The story from the tragedy appeared in the Bermuda Sun in 1964. Bermuda Sun clipping
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Divers searching for two US Air Force planes that collided in Bermuda 50 years ago have appealed to the public for help in finding the wrecks.

This year is the 50th anniversary of the air disaster that claimed the lives of 17 servicemen.

And later this summer, a group of relatives of those who died will travel to Bermuda to mark the memorial.

Local deep-sea diver Graham Maddocks is keen to help the group by placing a wreath where the planes came to rest under the waves during their visit to the island in June.

And he believes members of the public may hold vital information about the exact location of the crash.

Mr Maddocks, who runs Triangle Diving, told the Sun: “We know approximately where these planes went down from pictures that were in the papers at the time.

“But obviously in those days there was no GPS locations or anything like that.

“So the idea is to gather as much information as possible before we start to dive the area we believe the aircraft may be in.”

“From the pictures and stories around at the time, we believe that the planes went down somewhere between Tucker’s Town and Cooper’s Island, maybe a mile off the island.

“There is no certainty that we will be able to find these planes after all this time.

“But we want to give it a good go and give these guys who are coming over to mark the memorial something extra to remember the trip by.”

Mike Belter is organizing the memorial trip to Bermuda for the US relatives of those who died.

Mr Belter’s father, Lowell ‘Mick’ Belter, died in the collision on June 29, 1964.

He was living in Bermuda and just eight years old when his father, a radio operator, was killed on board one of the planes.

Devastating

But the devastating events that took place in the air off Bermuda almost half a century ago had a profound and life-changing effect on the Belter family.

He told the Bermuda Sun: “At this point, we have 25 persons confirmed and a possibility of four others attending from the States.

“The confirmed come from three families of the 17 airmen killed in the crash in 1964, plus two airmen and their spouses who were assigned to Kindley or the Azores planes.”

Mr Belter added: “We know that large pieces of wreckage were found at around 190 feet deep, near the limits of what could be recovered in 1964, as major parts of the Azores plane were recovered, including the bodies of four of the seven crewmen in that plane. 

“Much of the Kindley HC-97, my dad’s plane, was not recovered, and only one body, that of the pararescueman  who was likely in the door to jump at the time of the collision, was recovered, while nine were never recovered.

“We know that aluminum components of the aircraft are not likely to survive the ocean after fifty years, but there should be evidence of the crash still located on the ocean floor.

 “In providing permission and encouragement for Graham Maddocks and his friends to dive the crash site, we discovered that the actual location is not known.

Reports

“We do know that early reports had the crash about two miles off of St David’s Head, then subsequent reports put it two miles south of Castle Island or Tucker’s Town.

“In looking at the press reports at the time, while Kindley called upon American Army, Navy, Coast Guard and Air Force personnel and assets to assist in rescue and recovery operations, we know that Bermudians also were involved in operating boats and other services in this effort.

“I know that Royden ‘Soap’ Fox was a marine pilot who was in the boats involved in the recovery of the mock Gemini spacecraft, so perhaps there is other information out there that would specify the location of the crash. 

 “The families would appreciate this information, and this would assist Graham in finding the resting place of 12 of the 17 airmen killed.”