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Friday 23 February 2018

Canadian hunt for families of Irish airmen killed in World War

paddy clancy

THE organisers of a plan to recover a World War Two bomber from the sea off Donegal are trying to find the families of the 12 Irishmen who died serving with the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF).

Planned seabed surveys for Halifax bomber number LW170 that was forced to ditch 140 miles northwest of Donegal in August 1945 have been abandoned twice since 2009.

But Karl Kjarsgaard, an Ottawa-based retired airline pilot who is manager of 'Halifax 57 Rescue', believes he has secured the help of another company that owns a hi-tech sonar ship to conduct the survey next summer.

He wants to raise the plane, which lies 1.6km beneath the waves, and take it back to Canada, where it would serve as a memorial to the airmen who served in the war. He also wants to remember all the Irish who died with the RCAF.

LW170 is the only known RCAF Halifax to have avoided the scrapyards, where they were broken up after the conflict.

The four-engined plane, which Mr Kjarsgaard said could be called the most historic bomber in Canadian aviation history, was forced to ditch after it sprung a fuel leak while on peacetime weather patrol from its base in Scotland.

It remained afloat for seven hours while the crew took to a life raft and were rescued by a passing freighter.

No one on board was Irish, but Mr Kjarsgaard wants to honour all 12 Irishmen who were killed in action with RCAF Halifax bombers during World War Two.

He has identified them and their home towns and hopes relatives and descendants can provide more details to him by emailing him on 57rescuecanada

The 12 are Sgt MJ O'Donovan from Rosscarbery, Co Cork; P/O J Gilliard from Killester, Dublin; Sgt P Furlong from Killincarrig, Co Wicklow; Sgt JK McMahon from Limerick; Sgt RL Dinnen from Ballyjamesduff, Co Cavan; Sgt JK Gilvary from Bray, Co Wicklow; Sgt WP Maher from Clonmel, Co Tipperary; Sgt HB Hill from Ballycanew, Co Wexford; P/O AC Middleton from Dublin; F/O RR Irvine from Dublin; Sgt RWS McNally from Lisburn, Co Antrim; and P/O JC Harris from Belfast.

Mr Kjarsgaard has paid tribute to the Irish Marine Institute, which helped in providing the exact co-ordinates for the Halifax – which they discovered during a sonar survey of the Rockall Trough several years ago.

He said that although two further surveys had to be abandoned, he believes he is on the verge of reaching an agreement with an exploration company to help raise the Halifax next year.

He said: "Many factors and elements must line up for us, and we do not wish to minimise the complexity of the task.

"We have come close in the recent past to launching an expedition, and we will not be deterred in the coming months to get the expedition going."

The plane played an important role during the invasion of Europe.

"Halifax LW170 went on 29 combat missions in 1944, including on D-Day, when it bombed heavy guns on the Normandy coast," said Mr Kjarsgaard.

Sunday Independent

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