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Big Band records lie with B17 bomber 29.08.11

by Linda McGrory

A STASH of rare 120 Tommy Dorsey records evoking the wartime Big Band era would be music to the decompressed ears of scuba divers searching for them on the wreck of a B17 bomber in Co Donegal. The vinyl records by the American trombonist and band leader as well as a record player are among the items yet to be salvaged from 'The Meltin' Pot' which crashed in Lough Foyle in September 1942. The plane and its eleven young servicemen had endured a harrowing trans-Atlantic journey after suffering engine failure early in their flight from Newfoundland to England.
It was one of the remarkable World War II stories of survival as all of the men were saved thanks, in part, to the piloting skills of Captain Curtis Melton and a brave local teenager, Elisabeth Ferguson (nee Benson) OBE.
Seeing the 'Flying Fortress' crash into the sea near her home in the fishing village of Greencastle, Co Donegal, the local Presbyterian minister’s daughter rowed out in her small boat to the stricken men.
She managed to help Melton and several of his men aboard while the others also managed to get to safety wearing life jackets and using the plane's inflatable dinghies.
The wreck of 'The Meltin' Pot' was discovered almost intact in August 2001 by Inishowen Sub Aqua Club, who have undertaken numerous dives at the site over the past decade.
Artefacts so far recovered from the plane, located on the seabed only a half-mile from shore, include toiletries and personal effects such as soap boxes and shaving brushes. Gas masks, one of the plane’s 15 oxygen tanks and a US issue rifle have also been retrieved.
Scuba diver, Seamus Carey, points to where the B17 bomber 'The Meltin' Pot' lies just a half-mile off the coast of Greencastle, Co Donegal, with a stash of wartime provisions onboard including 120 Tommy Dorsey records.
Local diver Seamus Carey who spearheaded the search for the bomber having learned the story in childhood, said the plane and its story “keeps on giving”.
"We believe some 80 per cent of its cargo is still on board. Apart from the weapons, there were all sorts of things that were hard to come by in England at the time, like cigarettes, women's stockings and bottles of bourbon," said Mr Carey. He said the memoirs of the plane's tail gunner and flight engineer, the late Lee Kessler, had helped them put the pieces of the plane’s fateful journey together.
He said finding the Big Band era records would be one of the "main goals" from now on.
"There were about 120 Tommy Dorsey records in the cargo and we would love to find them. It would be great to clean them up and who knows, maybe even get a tune out of them 70 years later."
Another chapter in the story was provided when Captain Melton, now deceased, met his rescuer for the first time since the crash, when he travelled from the US to Greencastle with his wife for a special reunion in 2004. Ms Ferguson, who is in her late eighties and lives in Co Down, is the story’s only remaining survivor.
The plane has already been the subject of a 2009 book; 'The Meltin' Pot: From Wreck to Rescue and Recovery' by Derry author Jack Scoltock and will also feature in a BBC series next year called 'Dig WW2', presented by Dan Snow. For more photos of the dive click here
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