Inset, from left, Gregory Carleton and sister Julie, Bill Boyd and wife Charmaine, and Mike Belter. *Photo by Glenn Tucker
Inset, from left, Gregory Carleton and sister Julie, Bill Boyd and wife Charmaine, and Mike Belter. *Photo by Glenn Tucker

Families of the US serviceman that died in one of Bermuda’s worst air disasters have arrived on the island to mark the 50th anniversary of the tragedy.

For some, the trip to Bermuda is the first time they have been back since the 1964 crash that claimed the lives of 17 airmen when two air force planes collided off St David’s.

And for Bill Boyd, whose father Major Otto Boyd died on board one of the aircraft, it was an incredibly emotional moment.

Mr Boyd was just 16 when he witnessed the two planes spiralling towards earth after the crash.

The 67-year-old, who lives in California, said: “My family arrived in Bermuda in February, 1964.

“I had two brothers and a sister and we loved Bermuda. I remember the day — June 29 — very well.

“I had taken my motorbike down to Clearwater Beach and was watching the planes when they crashed. I went berserk. I could not quite believe what I had seen. I knew my dad was on one of the planes. I jumped on my bike and sped to the base.

“When I got there I told them that my dad’s plane had just crashed, but they slammed the door in my face. 

“I rode back home to my mom and within a few days we had all left Bermuda.”

Mr Boyd added: “Coming back to Bermuda was a hard decision for me.

“I have thought about it a lot over the years — especially the past decade.

“I nearly pulled out of this trip at the last minute because I did not think I would be able to deal with it. It was a difficult time for my family and I. We were never really told what happened and we were just shipped out. I don’t think I ever really got over it.

“I’m 67 now and I still have trouble dealing with what happened on that day.”

Mr Boyd and his wife, Charmaine, are part of a group of 27 relatives of those who died in the air crash that have returned to Bermuda this week.

The party will attend several formal functions and a memorial service as well as sail out to the spot where the two planes crashed into the water off St David’s. Mrs Boyd added: “I just hope Bill gets some relief from this trip and a better understanding of what happened.

“For him to be able to get some peace is important.

“We are so appreciative of the opportunity to come to Bermuda and meet with people that went through what Bill went through 50 years ago.”

The trip has been organized by Mike Belter, who was just eight years old when his father, Lowell ‘Mick’ Belter, a radio operator, was killed on board one of the planes.

The Bermuda Heritage Partnership has also played a major role in arranging the schedule for the group.

Amongst the families coming to Bermuda for the first time are Gregory and Julie Carleton, whose father, Airman First Class Larry Carleton, died in the tragedy. The siblings were just two and one respectively and living in New Jersey at the time of the crash.

Ms Carleton, 51, who still wears her father’s dog tags around her neck, said: “We were so young when it happened that we really don’t remember much.

“We grew up without a father, but we were always told all these amazing stories about him as part of our childhood.

“He was an incredibly-talented man and had already achieved so much in his short life of 22 years.

“We wanted to be here now to speak with people that might have known him or heard of him and also learn more about what happened that day. It is emotional being here and I’m sure it will get more so as we share stories and meet new people.

“We are so grateful to Mike Belter for organizing this trip and giving us this opportunity.”

Mr Carleton, 52, added: “My dad was part of the A team. All of those guys working on this project were the best. His future was so promising.

“There are a lot of unanswered questions for us as to what happened. “And I still think to this day what would have happened if he had survived or not been on the plane and how our reality today would have been different. My dad died when I was two, so for me it was also important to be here to remember him and mark the anniversary.” 

Last night the group were guests of Governor George Fergusson at Government House. And they will be hosted by the US Consul later this week.

Mr Belter told the Sun: “We are still hopeful that local diver Graham Maddocks will find the spot where the planes ended up and we can sail out to that location later this week.

“A big driver for me in organizing this trip was to help people come to terms with what happened 50 years ago and allow them to speak with other people who have been through this tragedy. 

And of course there is still the desire to work out what happened — and even since we arrived on Wednesday we have been able to find out more.”