The famous Short Sunderland flying boat operated out of RAF Station Pembroke Dock for nearly 20 years and had an enviable safety record locally, considering all the aircraft movements made in and out of the Haven Waterway in that time.

By 1954 the Sunderland was reaching veteran status, yet still undertaking roles uniquely suited to flying boats.

That safety record was marred that year with four accidents involving Pembroke Dock-based aircraft. Two occurred within weeks of each other in the autumn, making headlines across the country.

No 201 Squadron, one of two resident units at ‘PD’, had a strong affiliation with the Channel Island of Guernsey and three Sunderlands flew there in September on a courtesy visit. When landing at St Peter Port one – serial PP122 – hit an uncharted rock; it quickly taxied into the harbour and sank. None of the 23 crew and passengers on board were hurt. PP122 was later recovered but never flew again.

Worse was to befall the crew of PP155 of 230 Squadron on October 23rd. They were hurriedly called for a 2am take off and a long flight to the Faroe Islands to pick up a seriously ill trawlerman and fly him to a Scottish hospital.

The Sunderland crashed when landing in rough seas. Of the 12 crew, nine were rescued from the icy waters; one of whom – Flight Sergeant Emlyn Davies – died later. Hours earlier the aircraft captain, 230 Squadron’s CO Squadron Leader E. C. Bennett, had given a talk to Tenby Arts Club on the key role played by Sunderlands in supporting the Greenland scientific expedition.

Earlier, in January, a 230 Squadron Sunderland with a blazing engine made a rapid landing in Angle Bay, the crew saving themselves by jumping into the water. And in early March an aircraft from No 201 Squadron crashed during a training flight near Newton Noyes. Seven were killed, two being 19-year-old airmen on board for air experience. Of the four survivors, Flight Sergeant Ernest Evans was later awarded the George Medal for his rescue efforts.

Ill-luck continued in June 1955 when a 201 Squadron Sunderland crashed off Eastbourne. This was the last Pembroke Dock-based Sunderland loss and within two years the majestic white flying boats had left the Haven for good.

From the Pembroke Dock Heritage Centre Archive