Heller, Wladyslaw Eugeniusz
Wing Commander (Pulkownik Nawig)
No. P/0989, No. 3 General Reconnaissance School
Killed in an aircraft accident on Monday 18 October 1943 (aged 48)
Newtownards (Movilla) Cemetery, Co. Down (Roman Catholic Plot Section 18 Grave 22)
Polish War Memorial at Northolt in London
Wladyslaw Eugeniusz Heller was born on 27 June 1895 in Stanislawów, Poland and during the First World War he served with the Austrian Army. After the war he served with the Polish Army and during the Second World War he was assigned to the Polish air staff. On 18 October 1943, Wing Commander Heller, who was based at RAF Jurby in the Isle of Man, was one of four men aboard an Avro Anson aircraft (N5372) being flown by Flying Officer Cooper from No. 3 General Reconnaissance School at RAF Squires Gate (Blackpool) on a navigation exercise. In adverse weather the aircraft struck Knocklayd Mountain near Ballycastle in County Antrim, hit a tree and crashed into a house owned by Charles Blaney. Charles Blaney’s wife and their five children were at home, as was 22-year-old Josephine McGroarty from Frosses in County Donegal who was staying there at the time. Josephine McGroarty was standing outside the house with her boyfriend, John Greer from Ballycastle. John Greer was thrown clear as the aircraft crashed into the house, but Josephine McGroarty was killed, as were two of those on board the aircraft. In addition to Wing Commander Heller, Warrant Officer Eric George Clarke was also killed. Warrant Officer Clarke was buried in Drumachose (Christ Church) Church of Ireland Churchyard, Co. Londonderry.
The pilot, Flying Officer Cooper, was thrown from the aircraft and he landed in the children’s room, none of whom was injured, nor were their parents. Later he was taken to Limavady where he made a statement. He said that he had taken off at approximately 8.40 pm on a navigation exercise with two pupils. Wing Commander Heller was first navigator; Flight Lieutenant J.N. Down (or Dunn) was the second navigator and E.G. Clarke was the wireless operator/ air gunner. The planned route was 15 miles beyond the Mull of Kintyre direct from Squires Gate, plus a short leg (in the nature of a wide turn to avoid aircraft on a similar trip) and return direct to Squires Gate. Having ascertained before take-off that the highest ground to be encountered was 1,860 feet (including the Isle of Man), the pre-flight plan was to fly at a height of 2,400 feet. On the outward leg the pilot identified RAF West Freugh in Wigtownshire and at that point the cloud base was 2,500 feet reducing, with the result that the plane was flying intermittently in cloud and, as a result, the Mull of Kintyre was not seen.
After the pilot instructed the first navigator to turn for base he observed that they were extremely close to another aircraft on a similar course and at the same height, slightly to starboard and behind. To avoid a possible collision with the other aircraft he increased airspeed by means of a shallow dive to 2,200 feet and temporarily altered course. They resumed their original course and airspeed and soon after the pilot sighted a white flashing marine light the aircraft crashed. The official Accident Report from RAF Squires Gate stated that the aircraft had set course for Squires Gate on the last leg of a navigation exercise, flying at a height of 2,400 feet. Unknown to the crew, the plane was 11 miles to starboard of track. The night was dark with broken cloud and it was not raining. Contributory factors to the accident were noted: The pilot descended to 2,200 feet to avoid another aircraft. Barometric pressure was 4 millibars less at Knocklayd than at Squires Gate and had decreased by a further millibar between the time of take-off and the time of the accident. This brought the plane’s true height to about 2,050 feet. As the aircraft approached Knocklayd Mountain from the downwind side it experienced very strong down draughts.
The official report concluded that the accident was the result of a combination of circumstances including broken cloud, a dark night, an error in navigation, proximity of other aircraft, difference in pressure and down draughts. The report also concluded that the pilot had maintained control of the aircraft under very difficult conditions, after striking Knocklayd. Wing Commander Wladyslaw Eugeniusz Heller was 48 when he died and he was buried on 20 October 1943 in Movilla Cemetery, Newtownards. He is commemorated on Panel 21 of the Polish War Memorial at Northolt in London.