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Story of hero pilot's mystery crash in the Mournes may now be made into a movie, says daughter

By David Young

Published 25/04/2015

Jill Rivers travelled from New Zealand to find dad’s grave
Jill Rivers travelled from New Zealand to find dad’s grave
Eric Hunter

The story that sparked a New Zealand woman's journey to Northern Ireland to find the grave of the war hero dad she never knew could be turned into a movie.

Writer Jill Rivers (73) arrived in Belfast this week to search for memories of her father Eric Hunter, a Second World War bomber pilot who left New Zealand to fight the Nazis, but was killed in a crash in the Mournes in 1942, just four months after she was born.

During her visit Jill was able to grieve at her father's grave in Belfast's City Cemetery, and to visit the place where his bomber came down.

High on the slopes of Slieve Donard she found pieces of the wreckage from her father's Wellington aircraft.

They are now treasured mementos of the father she never knew.

"Visiting the crash site was a very, very deep emotional experience. This was where his life ended. I was closer to my father here in Northern Ireland than I had ever been before."

During her research she found there were no official records of the flight from Norfolk to Aldergrove. "That's very mysterious" she said.

"The flight also carried two obervers - a WAAF officer, who was the daughter of the then Commandant of the Ulster Special Constabulary, and a priest. Both were killed in the crash."

Jill has already written a film script based on the the story of the mysterious flight - and the script has been optioned by a New Zealand film company owned by Omagh-born actor Sam Neill.

Local man Bryan Johnston, a stalwart of the Belfast Rotary club, did the spadework in preparation for Jill's journey to find her father.

Bryan was speaking at an event in another Belfast - Belfast, New Zealand - when a 92-year-old ex-serviceman approached him.

He was Alan Hunter, Jill's uncle, and he told Mr Johnston about the death of his brother in the Mournes.

Bryan undertook to check out the crash site and to search for any records of a grave for the New Zealand pilot.

His work was invaluable in helping Jill achieve a sense of closure with her past.

"At my father's grave, I could hardly contemplate what was happening. I'd known about this man all my life, but he had not been real to me. But to see his grave gave me a sense of closure and deep connection."

Jill said she's been overwhelmed by the warmth and generosity she'd encountered in Northern Ireland.

"I had always intended to come to Northern Ireland on this quest for more information about my father, but without the help I have received from Bryan and pal Ernie Cromie of the Ulster Aviation Society, it would have been so much more difficult. I couldn't have done it without them."

Story so far

On March 16, 1942, a Wellington bomber on a flight from Norfolk to RAF Aldergrove crashed into the side of Slieve Donard, At the controls was New Zealand pilot Eric Hunter. He'd survived 17 missions over Nazi Germany - but that day his luck ran out

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