Thursday, October 27, 2011

Camisette Crash Site

There are several airplane crash sites in the Eastern Pyrenees and yesterday I went off to find one. The day didn't start well because I was late leaving home and then I had to take a detour because EDF have shut the road I normally take to repair the huge intake pipe that descends the hillside into the electricity generating station at Usson. Happily my mood improved because the autumn colours were fantastic along the detour.

The actual walk was to the Pic de la Camisette near Mijanes in the Ariege a beautiful area of the Eastern Pyrenees. Not as warm and sunny as the Pyrenees-Orientales  where Pyrenees Mountain Adventure operates the guided summer walking holiday but greener and lusher for it. The mountains are as beautiful. The view on the final approach to the summit, relaxing in the warm sunshine with just enough breeze to move the longer blades of grass was stunning.

The crash site is close to the higher of the two Camisette lakes in the shadow of the mountain.

There is no memorial to the dead and of the aluminium wreckage that is still visible, very little  resembles an aeroplane.  
On the morning of 5th December 1944  two RAF C47's (or Dakotas from the acronym "DACoTA" for Douglas Aircraft Company Transport Aircraft) take off  from RAF Northholt. They are transporting glider pilots to India via Marseille. At about 15h30, while flying over the Pyrenees during a snow storm, one of the Dakotas with 23 people aboard, crashes into the Pic de la Camisette, the wreckage ending up in flames close to a small lake at 2150m/7053 feet. 
Only 7 of the 23 aboard survive the initial impact . They are suffering from burns, lacerations and broken bones. After a night amongst the wreckage of the plane, the 2 least injured survivors - Major J.F Blatch and Sergeant Baker, decide to descend the mountain and find  help. Despite the cold and the snow, the two manage to reach Mijanès 5km/3 miles away and 1020m/3020 feet of descent. Villagers attempt to bring down the remaining 5 other survivors but the continuing poor weather and the onset of darkness halts the rescue effort. The next day (7th December) villagers from neighbouring Artigues finally manage to reach the crash site by midnight by following the footprints left in the snow by Blatch and Baker. Amonst the wreckage they find Ainsworth, Henwood, Wigmore et Dawkins still alive. Andersson who survived the initial impact has since died.  
11 military personal were found and brought down from the mountain and buried in Mijanes between the 10 and 19 December 1944.The search for the 6 bodies still not accounted for was halted during the winter due to snow cover making the search for bodies too difficult. The search resumed in the spring and the remaining bodies were found between the 23rd May and the 19th June 1945. All these survivors were buried in the Mazargues military cemetery in Marseille.
 A memorial to the dead is in Mijanès and some of the wreckage has been removed and can be found in the museum at Usson Castle.

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