Longendale Ghostplanes

THE PEAK DISTRICT is an area of sombre, imposing natural beauty between Manchester and Sheffield in the north of England. Britain’s first National Park, it is still the most visited National Park in Europe. It can be a dark, doleful place; a place where tradition and legend come alive; where history blurs with the present and where things can sometimes happen with no obvious explanation. In the west of the Peaks, running towards Manchester, lies the Longendale Valley. It is not only attracts tourists and leisure-seekers, but is also one of Britain’s most active sites for UFO enthusiasts and ghost-hunters. However, Longendale has one particularly unique type of supernatural story – Ghostplanes. The area has a long association with aircraft. The reservoirs in the area were used by the ‘Dambusters’ squadron to test their bouncing bombs during the Second World War. Although these tests saw no fatal accidents, there have been over 50 cases where planes have found themselves lost in fog and crashed into the moors. In all, over three hundred airmen have died in these accidents. There is also a remarkable range of tales from people witnessing phantom vintage aircraft seemingly in trouble. It is such a common occurrence that the local park rangers and mountain rescue teams have almost become used to being called out for plane crashes that they cannot find.

A striking recent example happened on the night of 24th March 1990. Many people were in the Peaks away from the city lights to watch the passing Hale-Bopp comet when they saw a large, low flying aircraft, like an old Lancaster bomber, on a collision course with local hills. Emergency switchboards lit up with a series of calls reporting the accident, with a staggering number of reliable witnesses. Two of them were Marie-Frances Tattersfield, a police special constable, and her husband, a former pilot. Mrs Tattersfield said the plane was ‘the weirdest thing I have ever seen… it was big and it was well below the legal altitude for night flying. All its windows were lit up which made it look even more odd as no pilot would fly blind at that time of night over those hills’. The police launched a search and rescue operation with over a hundred volunteers, but no trace of any plane or crash was spotted. But the remains of many stricken aircraft do still litter the hills of the area. On one, called Bleaklow, lies the shattered carcass of a B-29 Superfortress that crashed on 3rd November 1948, killing all 13 crew. Local children who play on the hill tell stories of a man in uniform who revealed himself as guardian of the site. They say he told them about the history of the aircraft and its crew, before vanishing. When shown photos of the dead aircrew, the children have been shocked to find the man they met was the doomed plane’s captain, Langdon P. Tanner.

It is not just children that have seen the captain. Gerald Scarratt witnessed the B-29 crash as a boy, but only visited the site two decades later. He investigated around the remains of the wreckage and found a gold ring engraved with the name ‘Langdon P. Tanner’. Soon after hearing of his discovery, a group of aircraft enthusiasts asked if he could take them to the wreck, ‘I bent down to show them where I found the ring, and when I looked up they had scarpered and were ten or fifteen yards away. ‘When I caught up with them they were ashen-faced. They said they had seen someone standing behind me, looking down and dressed in full flying uniform. I told them I had seen nothing, but they said:

“We’ve all seen him, thanks for taking us up, but we are going.” And I have never seen or heard from them again,’ Scarratt said. It would seem that, whether flying through the skies, or buried in the earth, there are some things in the Peak District which are beyond the realm of the explainable.

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