Air disaster in 1961
Did you know that in 1961, Montignies-Lez-lens was the scene of a terrible air disaster?
Indeed, on December 12, 1961, two military planes of the Fairchild C-119 type on approach for the Chièvres aerodrome were telescoped above Montignies-lez-Lens. One of the two planes crashed near the Marais farm, the other at Quesniau. Of the two planes, 13 corpses will be removed.
Here is a report of this event:
December 12, 1961 , 8:45 a.m., fairly harsh winter at this time in Montignies-lez-Lens. Day breaks, a small mist falls which encompasses the whole region in the gloom. On Pierre Van Veuren's farm, his wife, who is a few weeks pregnant, is busy clearing the breakfast table. Her husband is feeding the cattle in the barn when suddenly he hears a kind of thunderclap. A few seconds later follows a burst of light which illuminates the windows and walls on the north side of the farmhouse.
A little further, at the Druard-Pelerin farm, we notice the same thing, everyone is worried about 'this storm' which makes no sense in this winter season.
Meanwhile in the Van Veuren farm, panic sets in, It is now obvious that a disaster has just taken place: A plane has just crashed on the ground and is blazing.....
Two kilometers away, on the farm of the Vercruysse family (Ferme du Marais), the farmer distinctly hears the recognizable sound of an airplane engine running at full power. He exits hastily and sees a C-119 type plane which razes the grain reserve and crashes immediately afterwards in the field opposite the farm.
In a few seconds, a terrible drama played out in the sky near the military airfield of Chièvres. Two military planes of the same type C-119 of the Belgian Air Force collided in mid-flight. One of the planes crashed with its crew, in a field in the hamlet of Quesniau, while the second crashed at the very edge of the rue de la Roche, between the marsh farm and the cave of Notre Dame des bouloirs. Chièvres airport is two kilometers away as the crow flies.
The accident will cause 13 victims, all military to the air force. The aircraft are Air Force Fairchild C-119s.
The first, numbered CP23 c/n 10951 USAF-Serial: 52-6021 with registration: OT-CBC
Cap t. Jules Gérard;
Capt. Albert Vermeerbergen;
Cdt. To Le secondndré Bolle;
Adj. Gilbert Deneef;
1Sgt.Maj David Vandemeersche (tt 2478:30hrs)
The second, numbered CP25 c/n 11082 USAF-Serial: 52-6043 with registration: OT-CBE
1Sgt. Jose Decaigny;
Adj. Alfred Doncker;
Capt. Yvan Passchiersens;
Sgt. Camille Bauvois;
Adj. Gilbert Francois;
Adj. Romeo Decot;
1Sgt. Raoul Depoorter;
1Sgt.Maj.Florimont Delroeux (tt.2794.45 hrs)
Very oddly, the official press release from the Ministry of Defense reports a collision between a C-119 and an Air Force fighter plane during which 6 people would have lost their lives.
Very few traces of this accident remain:
- In Quesniau, a tree trunk half carbonized by the impact remained for decades as a souvenir, we are not sure if it still exists.
- Opposite the marsh farm (near the cave of the Virgin Mary of the Bouloirs), we still find the crater of the impact which has now become a small pond (see photos above).
The day after the tragedy, King Baudouin and Queen Fabiola gathered in front of the remains of the 13 airmen, transported to a burning chapel at the Chièvres aerodrome.
Below are some press extracts and reports from the investigation and the trial.