The 75th anniversary of an air crash still remembered in Barra and Vatersay is being commemorated today (Thursday May 9th) – in the islands and in Westminster.

Sunday (May 12th) will mark 75 years since an American-built RAF patrol plane crashed into the hillside, at Heisheaval Beag, Vatersay, with the loss of three lives.

The Catalina plane was a long-range patrol aircraft, known as a ‘flying boat’ because it was able to take off and land at sea. On the night of May 12th 1944 the plane took off from Oban for a training exercise, with nine crew on board, due to fly over the nearby point of Barra Head.

Later accounts say that the pilot became disorientated and, while trying to gain altitude, hit the hillside 213 metres above sea-level. The captain, Flight Sergeant David Clyne, wireless operator Sgt R ‘Fred’ Bassett and rigger Sgt Patrick Hine were all killed. Flight Sergeant Clyne was also an international footballer before the war, playing for Queens Park FC. His name is included in a memorial at Hampden Stadium.

The event’s being marked today (Thursday May 9th) in the House of Commons, where Na h-Eileanan an Iar MP Angus MacNeil has tabled an Early Day Motion entitled ‘Remembering the Catalina 75th Anniversary’. Locally, Vatersay Hall Café has also urged islanders to reflect on the anniversary.

Today a memorial stands guard over remarkably well-preserved wreckage from the fuselage, still strewn on the hillside, where the RAF abandoned it after an attempt at salvage. Travel writer Andy Jarosz, writing in 2013, said: “It is comforting to see that people appear to have been respectful enough to visit with a hands-off approach. The wreckage of the Catalina on Vatersay is a sombre reminder of the many tragedies of war.  For those with an interest in the history of aircraft or of the war years, it is also a rare chance to see the remains of a common wartime plane; left unguarded and untouched.” 

The Early Day Motion read in Parliament today is supported by 12 MPs and requests: “That this House notes the 75th anniversary of The Catalina aircraft tragedy of 12 May 1944 which set off from Oban on a training exercise set for Barra Head but tragically crashed near the summit of Heisheaval Beag on the Island of Vatersay; remembers the bravery and sacrifice of the Catalina crews which hunted U-boats off the coast to save the lives of merchant seamen bringing food to nations under rations; marks the anniversary of the deaths of Flight Sergeant David Clyne, Sergeant Fred Basset and rigger Sergeant Patrick Hines; recalls the courage of the other six crew members on board who survived while sadly losing their colleagues; and also notes in civilian life Dennistoun born Flight Sergeant David Clyne had a successful football career by playing for Queens Park FC and being twice capped at Scottish amateur level.”

The pictures of the Catalina wreckage and nearby memorial are by Andy Jarosz