The Pilot’s Ghost of Montrose

This is probably the oldest ghost story in the history of aviation. The little Irishman Desmond Arthur, black-haired and grey-eyed, gained his Royal Aero Club certificate in June 1912 and was killed in May 1913 when the BE2 biplane he was flying over Montrose in Scotland folded up in the air. But it was no flying accident. It was murder…

From the ground, people only could see the result of a sudden collapse of the upper starboard wing: the broken wing folded and threw the little biplane into a series of convulsive, fluttering jerks. The uncontrollable gyrations snapped the pilot’s seat-belt and a dark object fell away from the wreckage, arms and legs working with ever-gathering speed until it hit the ground. In 1913, no parachutes were worn.

The Royal Aero Club’s Accidents Investigation Committee found that the wing had collapsed because of a faulty repair carried out on the ground by an unknown person. Some guilty party had broken the wing, botched the repair and then covered it all up. No one had logged either the damage or the repair. For whoever flew the plane in that condition, it was a deathtrap – but there was no clue to identify the murderer and bring him to justice.

The death of Desmond Arthur had been horrible, but the little Celt did not come back to haunt his murderer or to revisit the scene of the crime. When the Great War broke out, everything changed. Montrose, this lonely place near the North Sea, became a training aerodrome occupied by the No. 18 Reserve Squadron. The wartime expansion brought a building programme to house the pupils, including a new officers mess. The instructional staff however did not live there with the “Huns”, as the novices were called because they could break British aeroplanes faster than the Germans did. The staff stayed in the old mess, the original building used by No. 2 Squadron, of which Desmond Arthur once had been a lieutenant.

But then, one evening in the autumn of 1916, Major Cyril Foggin saw an officer in a flying kit walking in front of him to the door of the old mess…

Full story here:

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