IN 1976, the long-sunken remains of a World War II-vintage aircraft were found in Loch Ness, Scotland. It was a Vickers Wellington Bomber. The aircraft was the brainchild of Barnes Wallis, a man who created a revolutionary “bouncing bomb” during the hostilities with the Nazis, and which was designed to destroy German dams. The Dam-Busters, was the nickname of the team that dropped the bombs. An enormous amount of interest was exhibited by military historians and aviation enthusiasts when the aircraft was found. The race for its recovery was well and truly on.
For years afterwards, however, the aircraft remained where it had already sat for more than thirty years -- that’s to say, approximately 230 feet down. Heriot-Watt University’s Underwater Technology Unit got involved in the investigation. The results of the investigations, along with help provided by the British Royal Navy, conclusively identified the aircraft as a Wellington. They even managed, in 1979, to identify its serial number: N2980. There was nothing particularly mysterious about N2980: as far back as late 1939, it had taken part in no less than fourteen bombing missions over Germany, before being transferred to Lossiemouth, where it was then used to train newly drafted aircrews. Official records on the crash were quickly accessed and told an unforgettable story.
Military records showed that the aircraft ditched into Loch Ness on December 31, 1940 -- New Year’s Eve -- after experiencing problems with one of the engines during a turbulent snow storm, high above the domain of monsters. It was when the crew was over the Monadhliath Mountains that problems began. They were problems which led Squadron-Leader Nigel Marwood-Elton to give a hasty order to jump ship, so to speak: four crew-members quickly parachuted out of the plane. Tragically, one of them, the rear-gunner, a 20-year-old, Sergeant John Stanley Fensome, was killed when his parachute catastrophically wrapped itself around one of the wings of the doomed plane.
While the crew was racing to exit the aircraft, Marwood-Elton and the co-pilot, named Slater, stayed on-board, struggling to control the aircraft as the dusk skies threatened to give way to darkness. With the snow hammering down and a powerful wind blowing, they maneuvered the plane closer and closer to the loch and, incredibly, actually managed to land it on the surface of the water, ditching near Urquhart Castle. With water already flooding into the aircraft from all corners, they scrambled for an on-board dinghy. The two then clambered out of the plane and onto the starboard wing, where they blew up the dinghy and used it to row to shore, as the aircraft was swallowed up by the waves, practically intact. As they reached land, the two men managed to flag down an astonished truck driver, who quickly drove them to Inverness -- no doubt for a couple of wee and hearty drams to help steady their nerves.
It wasn’t until September 1985, and amid more than a few hazards and hiccups, that the bulk of the aircraft was finally raised from the water, with the recovery of numerous, scattered fragments continuing into 1986. Incredibly, and almost unbelievably, the taillights of the plane were still in good, working order. The well-preserved remains of N2980 can now be seen on display at the Brooklands Museum, Surrey, England. Now, we come to the strangest parts of the story -- those that are focused on nothing less than the world of the paranormal, the domain of the afterlife, and those mysterious creatures that have, for so long, haunted Loch Ness.
As noted above, Vickers Wellington N2980 was found in 1976, and was conclusively identified in 1979. It was in 1978, however, that the Underwater Technology Group secured clear images of the aircraft, using high-tech cameras designed for use in deep waters. It may not be a coincidence that 1978 was also the year in which sightings began at Loch Ness of a spectral figure wearing a Second World War-era British Royal Air Force uniform. Was this the restless spirit of the one crew member, Sergeant John Stanley Fensome, who lost his life on that final flight of N2980? Did the filming of the aircraft disturb his supernatural slumber? Just perhaps, that’s precisely what happened.
As one example of more than a few, there is the story of a man named Peter Smithson, who told ghost-investigator, Bruce Barrymore Halpenny, of his encounter with the ghostly airman in 1978. Smithson said it was early one morning, just as dawn was breaking, when he saw someone coming towards him -- from the depths of Loch Ness. Smithson’s first reaction -- and a quite natural reaction -- was to assume there had been some kind of accident.
It was easy to understand why Smithson assumed that, as the man before him was dressed in military clothing, and was dragging behind him a parachute. But, what baffled Smithson was the fact that the uniform the man was wearing was clearly out of date. It was far from modern-looking and far more befitted the era of the 1940s, when the world was engaged in trying to defeat the hordes of Adolf Hitler. Smithson shouted to the man, to see if he was okay. The response Smithson got was an eerie one: the man slightly turned and pointed towards the waters of Loch Ness. Smithson said that the man suddenly dematerialized, leaving him with a “funny feeling,” and a suspicion that what he had seen was “a ghost airman.” He commented: “What a damn fool I felt, confronted by a ghost, my camera around my neck, yet I never had an inkling to take a photo.”
The weirdness continued: aircraft enthusiast and writer Joseph W. Zarzynski was approached by a man named Murdo Urquhart, who said that on September 15, 1985 -- when the operation to recover N2980 was in full-swing -- he saw nothing less than a Nessie moving across the surface of the loch and practically on top of the site where the aircraft sank. Perhaps of relevance, on the very same day that Urquhart encountered the creature, a fishing net that was sitting next to the wreck became mysteriously caught up in…something. MU