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North American P-51B 43-6635, Knowsley Park, Knowsley 16th February 1944.

Flight Officer Eugene Stanley Rybaczek (T-190748) of the 310th Ferry Squadron, departed Speke Airport on the morning of February 16th 1944 for BAD 2 at Warton in P-51B Mustang 43-6635 on a routine ferry flight. The aircraft was newly assembled at Speke and was being flown to Warton for further modification.

What should have been a routine assignment soon turned to disaster, after being airborne for a short while, the aircraft developed a probable mechanical failure which evidently caused Flight Officer Rybaczek to attempt a forced landing in the Earl of Derby's estate, Knowsley Park, used by No 48 Maintenance Unit as a satellite landing ground for the dispersal of Vickers Wellington's and Handley Page Halifax's.

Flight Officer Rybaczek approached the landing strip with the obvious intention of landing, in order for him to have landed on the runway he would have had to have made a right turn, but for reasons unknown, a slow left turn was attempted and the aircraft stalled in the last turn and spun in about 50 feet from the Western end of the runway from an altitude of about 150 feet, with fatal results killing Flight Officer Rybaczek instantly, the aircraft then disintegrated over the runway and was engulfed by fire at about 11:50 hours. RAF personnel went to assist with fire extinguishers but nothing could be done the aircraft being a total wreck. The fire tender and RAF personnel were quickly on the scene and extinguished the fire.  

Crash site of 43-6635 Crash site of 43-6635
Crash site of 43-6635
16/02/1944
Crash site of 43-6635
16/02/1944

From eyewitness accounts the aircraft had either sprung a fuel or coolant leak and all stated that vapour was coming from the aircraft and that it was entirely possible that Flight Officer Rybaczek was totally or partially blinded or rendered completely or semi unconscious from what ever the nature of the failure was.

One of these witnesses was Leading Aircraftsman R. Grace, as follows,

"During my course of duty on Wednesday, 16th February 1944 at approximately 12:00 hours, a Mustang aircraft of the USAAF flew across the runway at approximately 100 feet. As it approached the West end of the runway vapour appeared to be pouring from its tail. The aircraft went into a left bank and approached as if he were going to "shoot up" the runway. When about 50 feet from the runway its nose went down and he dived into the ground. The aircraft exploded and burst into flames, disintegrating over the runway".

Mr T Rothwell also on the estate also witnessed the accident, as follows,

"I was standing about 500 yards away from where the machine hit. Machine passed over my head, travelling in a North East direction. It appeared as the black smoke was coming from the tail of the machine. The machine made a left hand turn, as he did so rolled over and a half turn of a spin. The machine burst immediately into flames upon striking the ground. When I first saw the machine it was 200 feet high".

P-51B Mustang 43-6635 was built by North American at its Inglewood plant, California plant and was accepted on 30th October 1943 and departed the US on the 11th January 1944 and arrived at Speke on 18th January 1944

Eugene Stanley Rybaczek was born in Terryville Connecticut on the 25th May 1918 to parents of Polish decent, Joseph and Sophie Rybaczek, he also had a younger brother Joseph who was nine at the time of his death, the family lived on Beach Avenue, Terryville.

Eugene’s entry in the 1937 Terryville
Eugene’s entry in the 1937 Terryville
High School year book

Eugene went to school in Terryville and graduated from Terryville High School in 1937 from here he went to university and whilst working as a machinist in the aircraft industry in Texas, that he voluntarily enlisted in the Polish Forces under British Command at the Polish Army Recruiting Centre at Windsor, Canada on the 9th July 1941 and was given the service No P794675.

Group photograph of Eugene’s training course in Canada – 01/10/1941
Group photograph of Eugene’s training course in Canada – 01/10/1941

He carried out basic training at the “Tadeusz Kosciuszko Polish Army Training Camp” in Owen Sound, Ontario, Canada and was then sent to the UK on the 17th October 1941 and Posted to HQ Wing at RAF Padgate.

28/11/1942 - Posted to Air Crew Training Centre at RAF Hucknall for theoretical training.

10/01/1942 – Posted to No 12 Initial Training Wing at RAF St Andrews for theoretical training. He would have been one of 44 Polish pilots under training posted in.

14/05/1942 - Posted to No 25 Polish Elementary Flying Training School at RAF Hucknall.  Again he would have been one of 44 Polish pilots under training posted in.

16/07/1942 - Posted to No 16 Polish Secondary Flying Training School at RAF Newton.

02/12/1942 – Awarded the permanent war rank of Sergeant and also received his pilot’s title and wings.

10/12/1942 - Posted to the Polish Airforce Depot at RAF Blackpool.

22/12/1942 - Posted to No 6 Anti Aircraft Co-operation Unit at RAF Cark.

14/01/1943 – Carried out aircraft tests at Cark

During late January 1943 posted to No 6 AACU unit detachment at RAF Belfast, Northern Ireland.

31/01/1943 – Flew to Holywood, No 242 HAATR.

02/02/1943 – Flew to Ballykinler, No 241 LAATR.

05/02/1943 – Flew to St Johns Point.

08/02/1943 – Accident to Oxford aircraft, R6273 at Belfast. Undercarriage of aircraft collapsed whilst taxiing and was uninjured. There was no evidence of technical failure and it is considered that Eugene selected the undercarriage leaver up lever in error when the warning horn sounded.

20/02/1943 - Flew to St Johns Point.

25/02/1943 - Flew to St Johns Point, No 18 HAATR.

27/02/1943 - Flew to Holywood, No 242 HAATR

05/03/1943 - Flew to Holywood, No 242 HAATR

- Aircraft tests at Cark

- Flew to Holywood, No 242 HAATR

10/03/1943 - Posted to No 1601 flight at RAF Western Zoyland on target tug duties.

13/03/1943 – Arrived at No 1601 flight at RAF Western Zoyland from Castle Bromwich.

15/03/1943 – Given dual instruction.

16/03/1943 – Went solo on Hawker Henley.

19/03/1943 – To Reading and return in tiger Moth.

21/03/1943 – Did practice tows.

23/03/1943 - Posted to No 1603 flight at RAF Cleave on target tug duties.

24/03/1943 – Posted to No 1613 flight at RAF Driffield on target tug duties.

26/03/1943 - Reported to No 1613 flight at RAF Driffield for flying duties.

Eugene in RAF/PAF uniform Eugene in RAF/PAF uniform
Eugene in RAF/PAF uniform Eugene in USAAF uniform

On the 25th May 1943 he was honourably discharged from the Polish Forces under British Command where his conduct had been considered to be very good, he then transferred to the USAAF were he was given his pilots rating of Flight Officer on the 26th May 1943, at some point after this he was posted to the 310th Ferrying Squadron stationed at Base Air Depot 2 – Warton, one of his duties was the ferrying newly assembled aircraft from No1 Aircraft Assembly Unit at Lockheed Overseas Corporation facility located at Speke airport to Warton for further modification prior to issue to a squadron, Eugene earned $270 per month as a ferry pilot.

Eugene in USAAF uniform sat in the cockpit
Eugene in USAAF uniform sat in the cockpit
of a P-51B

Eugene was involved in a minor accident at Speke airport on the 29th November 1943 when he was taxing P-51 No 43-6365 prior to a delivery flight when he struck a lorry and damaged the wing tip, the details of which follow.

After signing all the paperwork and collecting North American P-51B aircraft No 6344, from Lockheed’s Overseas Corporation, Flying Officer Rybaczek was taxing along the perimeter track at 15:15 hours to get into a take off position for a ferry flight to Warton, when his right wing scraped a lorry parked on the outer grass verge, near to the perimeter track. This collision resulted in the wing tip being torn off and the outboard end of the starboard aileron being damaged, the aircraft was repaired on site by Lockheed’s Overseas Corporation. The windscreen of the lorry was also smashed. The lorry was a 60 feet articulator and was from Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton and was driven by Royal Marine driver Douglas Allen. 

Eugene’s grave in St Mary's Cemetery Eugene’s grave in St Mary's Cemetery
Eugene’s grave in
St Mary’s Cemetery
Eugene’s grave in
St Mary’s Cemetery

Eugene was originally buried on the 22nd February 1944 1t 14:00 hours in Brookwood Cemetery, London, 2nd Lieutenant Guy Seesac escorted the coffin and represented the squadron. On the 28th April 1948 his remains were disinterred and were repatriated to the United States on the 18th June 1948 arriving back in Terryville on the 26th July 1948 escorted by 2nd Lieutenant John M Hepperle.

Eugene was buried in St Mary’s Cemetery, Terryville, Connecticut with full military honours on the 29th July 1948 after a solemn high Mass was held at St Casimir’s Church at 09:00 hours, his coffin was taken to the cemetery in a wagon accompanied by an honour guard. Buried alongside Eugene are his Father Joseph, Mother Sophie and Brother Joseph.

The presidential letter received by the Rybaczek family
The presidential letter received by the Rybaczek family

At the time of his death Eugene was engaged to be married to a girl from the Nottingham area and were saving for their wedding, they were to have been married in June 1944.

“Eugene Park”
“Eugene Park”

Land off Ashton Drive near Eugene’s home was bought by his father and named “Eugene Park” in his son’s honour, there was a merry go round, pond and a hall, there were many Polish celebrations which took place at the park, his brother Joseph was even married in the park to his wife Jean. Some of his friends recently recalled that he was a very popular person and that he liked Ford cars which he drove fast. Eugene was also a close friend of Ted Knight who played the newscaster on the Mary Tyler Moore TV show. His nickname according to the 1937 year book was “Ryba” and that he was known as "Best Dancer", "Biggest Bluffer" and that he was never expected to be seen without money.

Crash site of P-51B Mustang 43-6635 marked by spades Crash site of P-51B Mustang 43-6635 marked by spades
Crash site of P-51B Mustang 43-6635 marked by spades
May 2002 (note background compared to 1944 photo).
Crash site of P-51B Mustang 43-6635 marked by spades
May 2002 (note background compared to 1944 photo).

On Monday the 13th May 2002 a small group of Lancashire Aircraft Investigation Team visited the Knowsley estate to attempt to find the crash site of  43-6635. The details of follow below.

“On Monday 13th May 2002 saw two team members visiting the site of the former satellite landing ground at Knowsley Park under the watchful (and extremely helpful) eye of the Head Forester - Our main aim was to locate the crash site of P-51B 43-6635 which crashed whilst attempting an emergency landing there on 16th February 1944, sadly resulting in the death of its pilot Flight Officer Eugene S. Rybaczek”.

Fragments of 43-6635 found at crash site in May 2002. Air speed indicator gauge found at crash site in May 2002.
Fragments of 43-6635 found at crash site in May 2002. Air speed indicator gauge found at crash site in May 2002.

“Having spent the morning viewing some of the scant remains of airfield buildings and dispersals etc. We calculated the approximate area of the threshold of the runway, where the aircraft was known to have dived into the ground and began a systematic detector sweep. Three quarters of an hour later we found our first fragment - an aluminium hydraulic pipe with US made brass connector. Readjusting the search pattern to narrower lanes, in the vicinity of this piece, soon brought to light several more fragments including a headphone earpiece from a flying helmet and the face of the airspeed indicator, all showing signs of impact damage. One larger signal proved to be a small cache of remains just below the surface indicating the actual impact point, with traces of oil and a WW2 vintage asbestos fire blanket bearing testimony to the events of 56 years before”.

Wall display within the Lancashire Aircraft Investigation Team Building at The RAF Millom Museum Cabinet display within the Lancashire Aircraft Investigation Team Building at The RAF Millom Museum
Wall display within the Lancashire Aircraft Investigation Team Building at The RAF Millom Museum Cabinet display within the Lancashire Aircraft Investigation Team Building at The RAF Millom Museum

There is now a permanent display on this incident within the Lancashire Aircraft Investigation Team Building at The RAF Millom Museum

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