October 21, 2020

Fears WW2 plane in Netherlands lake could be recovered with ‘grabber’

Sgt Charles Armstrong Bell and his crew during WW2 Image copyright Durham Constabulary
Image caption The Short Stirling Bomber BK716 was lost when returning from a bombing raid in Germany

Plans that could see an RAF World War Two bomber lifted from a lake in the Netherlands by a crane grabber rather than using a dam have been criticised.

The Short Stirling Bomber, based at RAF Downham Market in Norfolk, was lost returning from a 1943 raid on Germany.

Plane enthusiast Rick Brooks has voiced anger Dutch authorities could use a crane he likened to an arcade “machine where you grab a teddy” to lift it.

Almere city council said it had not yet announced the recovery method.

The aircraft BK716 was found earlier this year submerged in Lake Markermeer, near Amsterdam, and it is thought the remains of the crew would still be on board.

Mr Brooks, who has been involved in previous operations to recover aircraft, said in the past when wartime aircraft were recovered from rivers or a lakes a cofferdam was used so the site could be properly excavated and the remains of the crew could be carefully retrieved with any items found near their remains.

A cofferdam allows water to be pumped out, creating a dry area for land reclamation work to proceed.

Lost bomber crew

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption This is the type of plane flown by the crew

The crew of Short Stirling BK716 were:

  • Sgt Charles Armstrong Bell, 29, from Langley Park, County Durham
  • Pilot Officer John Michael Campbell, 30, from Golders Green, north London
  • Flying Officer Harry Gregory Farrington, 24, from Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada
  • Flying Officer John Frederick Harris, 29, from Swindon, Wiltshire
  • Sgt Ronald Kennedy, 22, from Newcastle-on-Tyne
  • Sgt John Francis James McCaw, 20, from Belleville, Ontario, Canada
  • Sgt Leonard Richard James Shrubsall, 30, from Iwade, Kent

But Mr Brooks, who has been in contact with teams involved in recovery operations in the Netherlands, said he believed Almere council had been looking at the cheaper method he compared to an amusement arcade machine.

Mr Brooks, who lives in Ashford, Kent, said to respect the memory of the seven man crew the bomber should be properly excavated.

He said through the use of cofferdams, teams have had “success in finding those small items that mean so much to the airmen’s surviving relatives”.

Mr Brooks said a grabber would be “destructive” and would leave behind body parts and “small items like a wedding ring or a watch” that he said could help identify the remains.

Almere council said it had “decided to respect the wishes of relatives to salvage the aircraft, and to honour the killed crew members”.

“Care and respect are first priority, both towards relatives and in the method of recovery as decided by the (Dutch) Ministry of Defence,” it said.

“We will soon announce the chosen method of recovery and the start date of the recovery process.”

Find BBC News: East of England on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. If you have a story suggestion email [email protected]