A WARTIME air crash which claimed four lives took place almost 80 years ago.

Second Lieutenant Del Harris was taking the B17 Flying Fortress on a test flight from RAF Burtonwood when disaster struck in January 1944.

On descending through the clouds, he found his craft had unexpectedly drifted eastwards, over Edgworth in the Pennines, and he was unable to avoid a catastrophic impact. While the craft managed to avoid a nearby children’s home, it demolished a number of dry stone walls before coming to a halt.

An engineer, Laurence Tracy, and three passengers, Sgts Thomas Kristin and L B Woodall and William Killough, who were sat in the bombardiers compartment, all perished as a result of the crash.

Harris survived the landing, as did his co-pilot, Lieutenant Elmer McDonald, but the latter was left seriously injured.

One account of the time recorded how the crash was witnessed by four young boys.

When Harris staggered from the wreckage, to ask them how badly he was, they are said to have fled from the scene.

Reconstruction experts from the Lancashire Aircraft Investigation Team have previously explored the crash site, which bears little scars from the events of three-quarters of a century ago.

Their report, compiled after a recent probe, found that the plane had been under the control of the chief ground engineer, Tracy, which was not unusual, and the aircraft had drifted despite careful observations being made by the pilot.

The investigators noted that while there were no outward indications of what had taken place there, a sweep with metal detectors uncovered a number of recognisable pieces of aircraft metal. Parts of an ignition harness, brass oil line connectors and the cocking handle from a Browning waist gun were also recovered by the team.

Though Harris is said to have vowed never to return to the air with any colleagues aboard, this was not his last involvement in flight duties. Later he performed test flights for fighter planes before volunteering for combat, towards the end of the war.

He was shot down in August 1944 and captured by the enemy. But he made his escape on a forced march to Munich in April 1945 and made it back to safety.