Big Band records lie with B17
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
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
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