Jim Hodgson, who led the recovery mission, remembered the horror for the rest of his life.
He was the man called when, exactly 70 years ago this weekend, an American World War Two plane fell from the Sheffield sky, crashing into a city suburb.
All 10 crew on board were killed when the B17 Flying Fortress - nicknamed Mi Amigo - smashed into Endcliffe Park on the afternoon of February 22, 1944.
But for the heroics of the pilot, who avoided homes in Greystones and children playing in the park, it is said the death toll would have been far higher. As it was, not a single person on the ground perished.
“We just did what we could,” remembered Mr Hodgson, a Hillsborough highways worker who had been specially trained in rescue work for the war and who had to cut the bodies from the wreckage.
“We didn’t think about it. We just did it but the only heroes there on that day were the 10 lads who lost their lives.”
It is an incident that has lived in the Sheffield conscience ever since.
Every year, on the Sunday closest to the anniversary, a memorial service is held in Endcliffe Park to honour both the crew of Mi Amigo and the thousands of American airmen who died during World War Two.
A special plaque is dedicated to them.
“This year will be special because it’s the 70th anniversary but it’s always very poignant,” says Gordon Unsworth, civic event coordinator for Sheffield branch of the Royal Air Force Association.
“With each year that passes there are fewer people who witnessed the incident but it is still important for us to remember as a community. These men sacrificed their lives for a just cause.”
The plane was attempting to return to its base in Northamptonshire after being attacked by German fighters that fateful day. It had been carrying a 4,000 lb bomb intended to be dropped on a Luftwaffe air station in Aalborg, Denmark, when it was ambushed by enemy machines over the North Sea.
“The bombers were attacked by Focke Wulf 190s,” explains David Harvey, a Dronfield researcher who released a book on the incident in 1994.
“Mi Amigo was seen to take heavy damage, in particular to the engines.
“The bomb load was jettisoned over the sea and she started her way home.”
The story, from there, is taken up by the United States Air Force historical records kept in Montgomery, Alabama. They recall the “extraordinary achievement” of pilot Lieutenant John Kriegshauser who was awarded a posthumous Distinguished Flying Cross for minimising loss of life. “Displaying consummate skill, he piloted the aircraft back to England,” the official records state. “Although unfavourable weather conditions were prevalent, Lt Kriegshauser attempted to locate a field in which to land.
“Engines became inoperative over a heavily built up area (Sheffield) and he was forced to crash-land.
“An English home was directly in the path of the bomber but Lt Kriegshauser, exhibiting an exemplary devotion to duty, manoeuvred the crippled aeroplane over the dwelling. It crashed in a wood approximately 100 yards away. The courage, coolness and skill displayed by Lt Kriegshauser reflect the highest credit on himself and the armed forces of the US.” One eyewitness to the incident was Brian Jackson, formerly of Redmires Road, Fulwood. He had been standing in nearby Manchester Road when he saw the plane fall from the sky. He ran immediately to the scene.
“The tail plane was jammed vertically upright between two trees; the plane was in two halves having slid down the bank,” he recalled. “The forward section was blazing fiercely.”
As it turned out, it was just one of 43 downed American bombers that day. A massive offensive against German lines had been a relative success but it had come at the loss of 430 young lives.
The first - and perhaps most unusual - memorial service for the crew of Mi Amigo was held that summer, according to Brian.
Another Flying Fortress passed low over Greystones one Sunday evening. “It transpired afterwards,” he said, “that a wreath had been dropped on the site of the crash.”
The men who died:
Lt John Kriegshauser
Memorial for fallen heroes
A memorial service has been held at the site of the Mi Amigo crash since 1970.
That year, the Sheffield branch of the Royal Air Force Association installed a memorial stone in Endcliffe Park honouring the dead. It was funded with donations from Sheffield people.
“We want to provide a plaque in memory of these men who gave their lives so that other people in Sheffield might not die,” said Bert Cruse, the then chairman of the branch.
Wreaths have been laid on the Sunday closest to the anniversary by representatives from the United States Air Force, Royal Air Force and the local community ever since.
This year, the ceremony will take place this Sunday at 1.15pm followed by a service at St Augustine’s Church in Brocco Bank, from 2pm.