PRESERVING THE PAST . . . . FOR THE FUTURE
AIRCRASH 1948 - AUCHINWEET FARM
MISTAKE ON A MAP
At 8.30pm on 20th October 1948 a K.L.M. Lockheed Constellation Aircraft was due to take off from Amsterdam Schipol airport in Holland. Captain K.D. (Dick) Parmentier a senior pilot with 20 years flying experience and 16,000 hours flying time was in charge. His co-pilot was Flying Officer Kevin O'Brien an ex R.A.F. pilot.
The first leg of the flight was to Prestwick, and then onto New York. The aircraft missed its departure time due to late freight for Iceland being loaded on board, and left at 9.11pm. There were 40 passengers and crew on the flight. Had the flight left on time the wireless operator on board would have received an updated weather report broadcast from Prestwick weather station at 9.05pm advising that in two hours time Prestwick would have drizzling rain and solid cloud cover down to 600 feet.
Unaware of the deteriorating weather conditions ahead the aircraft flew towards Britain passing over the north of England to Carlisle, before turning North West and passing over Cumnock to begin an approach to Prestwick. The aircraft carried enough fuel to divert to Shannon in Ireland or return to Schipol. The Captain was also unaware that two other Scandinavian flights had already turned back because of the weather and was still unaware regarding the cloud cover. On starting his descent the Captain was relying on Ground Control Approach radar to find the airport through the cloud and darkness. This system was only available on the main runway 32 but crosswinds made the landing hazardous. The agreed plan was make the approach to the main runway, visually sight the airport, then over shoot the landing, fly out to sea, make a gradual turn to port and fly back in parallel to the shorter runway 26, fly down its length and turn again at the outer marker and land into the wind on this runway. The important part of all this was keeping visual contact with the landing beacons.
K.L.M pilots were instructed not to attempt a landing on runway 26 when cloud cover was below 700 feet. These instructions had been issued by Captain Parmentier himself. Even on his final approach the Captain was still unaware that cloud cover was now down to 300 feet in places. There is no doubt that if Prestwick approach control had passed this weather update on he would have aborted the landing and flown to an alternate destination.
On the second part of the leg, cloud cover obscured runway 26 resulting in the aircraft continuing to fly east and inland. The crew were unaware that they had in fact flown past the turn beacon marker and were still trying to locate landing lights. The ground contour map they were using showed the only immediate high ground on their heading was 45 feet. In fact this K.L.M. map had been copied from American Air Force maps which contained a fatal error. Ground contours were rising to 450 feet and had a line of 132,000 volt power cables right in their path just 3 miles ahead. That was one minutes flying time from the airport.
The aircraft which was flying at the same height, flew straight through the high tension cables which immediately fused all the insulation and set fire to the fuel on board. Captain Palmentier had no option but to turn his crippled aircraft back to port and try and gain altitude to save his passengers. The aircraft continued to fly on fire in a port circle for 3 minutes before crashing into a field at Auchinweet Farm on the back Mauchline / Tarbolton road.
Because of fog, misunderstanding and confusion, help didn’t arrive for one and three quarter hours by which time only six passengers were still alive. All died within the next day. The bodies were recovered and taken to an emergency mortuary at Ballochmyle Hospital for possible identification and post mortems. In poignant circumstances a third of the faulty map was destroyed but on the part recovered the charring had stopped just before the markings for contours of 45 feet appear. No one had ever noticed or corrected the error.
In local folklore the crash was remembered because the flight was allegedly carrying diamonds. I believe that one of the Dutch passengers may have been carrying some precious stones for sample and display purposes. I don't think any large amounts were ever found. Also on board was a consignment of watches, some of which were ' liberated ' from the crash scene by locals.
Nothing remains to identify the crash site. There are no memorials or plaques for the 40 who died that night in a farmers field just outside Mauchline. The passengers were mostly Dutch and German citizens, with only one British passenger on board. As we approach the time of 'Rememberance' let’s also remember the passengers and crew of 'Nijmegan' (the aircrafts name) call sign 'Tare Easy Nan' who never completed their final journey.