Superfortress RB-29A 44-61999 ‘Over-Exposed!’ (the ‘Bleaklow Bomber’)
RB29 Superfortress air crash site at Higher Shelf Stones on Bleaklow.
History (scroll down for notes on visiting the crash site and moving on to other crash sites on Bleaklow)
The Superfortress took off on the morning of 3 November 1948, at around 10.15 from Scampton, Lincolnshire for Burtonwood USAF base, near Warrington, England. It was a routine flight with 2 other aircraft, the RB29 carrying USAF wages among other things. The crew were due to return to the States a few days later.
When ‘Over Exposed!’ failed to arrive at Burtonwood, an air search was initiated and that afternoon the burning wreck was spotted high on the moors near Higher Shelf Stones. By chance members of the Harpur Hill RAF Mountain Rescue Unit were just finishing an exercise two and a half miles away, so they quickly made their way to the scene of the crash but there was clearly nothing that could have been done for any of the crew.
All 13 men on board were killed instantly when the aircraft flew into the moor. It is not known why Captain Tanner did not fly at a height sufficient to clear the high ground.
For more, please see the account of a member of the recovery party which arrived on site the day after (photo above, top left or link here).
‘Over Exposed!’ was a photo reconnaissance aircraft – hence the name – and had photographed some of the nuclear bomb tests at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean and had taken part in the Berlin airlift. I have been told the name was given to the aircraft after getting too close to the flash during nuclear bomb Test Able in July 1946.
Pilot, Captain Landon P. Tanner
Co-pilot, Captain Harry Stroud
Engineer, Technical Sergeant Ralph Fields
Navigator, Sergeant Charles Wilbanks
Radio Operator, Staff Sergeant Gene A. Gartner
Radar Operator, Staff Sergeant David D. Moore
Technical Sergeant Saul R. Banks
Sergeant Donald R. Abrogast
Sergeant Robert I. Doyle
Private First Class William M. Burrows.
Corporal M. Franssen
Corporal George Ingram
Acting as photographic adviser was Captain Howard Keel of the 4201st Motion Picture Unit.
Photoset of RAF Harper Hill Mountain Rescue Team which includes photos taken during the recovery operation.
Visiting the crash site from the top of the Snake Pass (car parking)
Most recent update 21 January 2023
The crash site on Google Maps
View on Bing maps using Ordnance Survey mapping. Can’t be viewed on a phone, unfortunately.
Approximate post code for the lay-by is S33 0AB
From October 2020, there was a bus route over the Snake Pass with bus stops at the top of the pass but this service stopped in January 2022. As of July 2022 the bus stops are still there but there is no bus service.
My preference would be to visit the crash site from the trig point at Higher Shelf Stones but the directions provided below are for the quickest routes to the site. It is about 45 – 60 minutes walk to the crash site from the lay-by (car parking and bus stops) at the summit of Snake Pass.
Warnings and disclaimer
If you are planning to visit the crash site, the usual warnings about having the right kit and plenty of Kendal mint cake apply; map and compass and the ability to use them, waterproofs, good boots and so on. Low cloud makes for an atmospheric visit but it also increases the chances of getting lost. On Bleaklow that’s at best an inconvenient and frustrating experience and at worst a call out for Mountain Rescue. At the risk of sounding paternalistic, I’d advise those dressed for the pub and without map and compass against it. It is nearly always wet and boggy. One of the biggest risks is in walking along the paved sections when they are iced up. The details below do not constitute professional guidance, so of course you use them at your own risk. You might not get a connection up there, so please copy these notes if you intend to use them. Please see the note at the bottom of this page about the signposts along the route.
Directions and grid references
Walk north along the Pennine Way (PW) from the layby along the made path (the new path and paving further on is to minimise the erosion of the Devil’s Dike). The start of the path has collapsible bollards to prevent vehicular access to all but emergency services (some broken car window glass along the path tells the reason for them).
The PW crosses the old Roman road at Doctor’s Gate and soon the first of the paved sections starts.
At the end of this short paved section there are some steps down to cross a little stream at SK 09210 93611. After this point the made path becomes a good stony path and it is about 10 minutes’ walk to the point where another path leaves the PW for the crash site.
At SK 09848 94244 the paving stones reappear, climbing slightly just ahead of you. Here, i.e. just before the paving stones start again, an intermittent path leaves the PW on the left and goes directly to the crash site. A slab of stone flat on the ground on your left marks the spot where you leave the PW.
It is usually very wet underfoot. This path follows a dike across Alport Low, the dike being marked on OS 1:50000 maps but not on 1:25000 maps. The dike is not that obvious on the ground but can clearly be seen from the southern end of the crash site for the return journey.
The path crosses Crooked Clough at SK 09443 94495 and continues gaining height before turning north to get to the crash site.
If you want to visit via the trig point at Higher Shelf Stones, you will need to keep heading north west across rough moor (no path) until you come to the edge of the moor and the drop to White Clough, then turn right. It is easy walking up to the trig point.
The path from the PW is fairly clear in good visibility. In low cloud, you might be better off taking the slightly longer route via Hern Clough. In this case, or if you miss the path turning, stick to the intermittently paved sections of the PW, walk past a PW marker stone and as the path emerges from the deep grough you have been in, you will arrive at a cairn where the path appears to fork. It is about half an hour from the lay-by to this point.
Photo above showing the route going to the left of the cairn near Hern Clough. Note the new marker post (see notes below on the sign posts) has gone. However there is a post like this further on at Hern Clough where the route leaves the PW.
Keep left, the path doesn’t actually fork, and another paved section is joined. Higher Shelf Stones is ahead and to the left. The path turns right (north east) briefly but then switches back.
The PW here drops slightly down to the edge of Hern Clough. Keep the stream on your right following the PW as it turns west (left). In a couple of minutes you will arrive at the point where you leave the PW at SK 09708 94773. Here the PW heads north.
Although the “Aircraft Wreck Site” posts have thankfully been removed (see below), there are a few with the white arrow on a black background remaining. There is one at this point now, which is helpful.
Cross the ford and you have three choices, see photo below.
I would suggest path B which has the signpost mentioned above. You follow another path which immediately turns right (north) and follows another stream, running parallel to the PW for a few minutes in a north westerly direction. At SK 09468 94926 this path leaves the stream and heads west and out across the moor, going directly to the southern end of the crash site.
The photo above was taken from near this marker stone above Hern Clough. It had been toppled but in 2022 has been put back.
At the crash site
The crash site memorial stone at the north western edge of the site is at SK 09040 94896 which is about 200m to the north east of the trig point on Higher Shelf Stones.
Note the debris is not visible from the trig point, the wreckage being hidden from view by the peat groughs and hags. However, if you need to get your bearings when you are at the site, the trig point is visible from the memorial stone.
The return journey is probably a bit easier – head south east and turn right when you reach the Pennine Way. Going too far to the south will put you in Crooked Clough which will of course mean a climb back out again.
From the southern end of the crash site you can pick up the intermittent path which leads back to the Pennine Way. In clear weather you will see the dike crossing the moor; this is the route back to the PW and the quickest way back to the Snake Pass.
There is also a lovely path which takes you along the south-eastern edge of Crooked Clough and then turns left to briefly follow Doctor’s Gate.
Photo above: if you want to return to the Pennine Way via Hern Clough, the path leaves the crash site near the remains of the tail turret section.
Removing the remains from this air crash site.
There are lots of reasons why people should not remove artefacts from air crash sites, ethical and legal, plus the landowner forbids it too. I often see bits of debris which people have carried and then dumped, presumably because it was too heavy to carry. It also would look a bit obvious, lifting a big piece of debris – clearly stolen from this site – into the boot of a car or back of a van with other people milling about.
A note about the signposting
New signs and posts appeared along the path from the lay-by in 2021. The signs referred to a “waymarked route” to the crash site. The posts have a white arrow on a black background.
There are a number of different route markers along this path; some all yellow in design, some with orange arrows on a green background, others yellow on a white background, pale blue on a navy background etc. Added to that, some of the Pennine Way marker stones had been moved around or toppled over… It could have been confusing.
It did seem an ill-conceived idea to have these signs; there are many recent news reports of Mountain Rescue being called out to people who have gotten into difficulties looking for the wreck site. To have a sign with the words, ‘AIRCRAFT WRECK SITE – Follow waymarked route,’ just a few metres from the lay-by at the top of the Snake Pass (circled in the image below) could have led unprepared visitors deeper into the moors.
However, since a visit in November 2021, all these “Aircraft Wreck Site” signs have been removed which I am sure was a sensible decision. Also I was pleased to see the once toppled marker post above Hern Clough had been put back.
My suggestion for anyone intending to visit the aircrash site is to use map and compass / GPS or go with an experienced guide. The notes provided above are an addition to – not instead of – using map and compass and GPS if you have one.
Visiting other crash sites on Bleaklow
There are at least 8 crash sites on Bleaklow, depending on how you define its boundaries. I have listed them here. It would make a tough challenge walk to visit them all in one day. If I was going to do it, I’d probably park by Torside reservoir and visit the site of de Havilland Beaver 52-6145 at Bramah Edge first, get the steepest climb out of the way. Then Blenheim L1476, on to ‘Over-Exposed!’ and so on. It would require a climb back from the bottom of Ashton Clough if you want to see the wreckage in the clough, then follow the Pennine Way, via Doctor’s Gate, over Bleaklow to the other three sites, then back down to Longdendale. About 16 miles, I reckon. But of course, you can pick and choose which to visit and hopefully these grid references (via Pat Cunningham) will help. All of these air crash sites are detailed on this website.