Two Vought F-4U Corsairs in flight in 1943, the same type of aircraft flown by two British pilots that crashed into Sebago Lake in 1944. Contributed / National Museum of the U.S. Navy

Tuesday, May 16, 1944, was to be an ordinary day of training for two British pilots practicing low-level formation training over Sebago Lake. That morning, six Vought F-4U Corsair aircraft took off from the Brunswick Naval Air Station and made their way to the lake.

Among the pilots were Sub-Lts. Raymond Laurence Knott and Vaughan Reginald Gill. Knott was just 19, hailing from Walton Gardens in Grantham, Lincolnshire, England. He was an avid athlete and an up-and-coming electrical engineer. Gill was 24, the oldest of three children born to George and Annie Gill. He spent much of his childhood in India before his family moved to the waterfront village of Sunbury-on-Thames where he left them behind to travel to America to train for the British Airforce. Knott and Gill were members of the 732 Naval Air Squadron, part of the royal navy’s fleet air arm that provided air cover to convoys keeping the Atlantic lifeline open and supported land campaigns in North Africa and Europe.

The day’s mission started off as planned, but over Sebago Lake, something went terribly wrong. Shortly before noon, as the six planes were passing over the lake, one aircraft suddenly dropped, crashing into the water. The crash sent up an enormous plume of spray that hit a second plane and sent it careening into the lake as well.

One eyewitness told the Portland Evening Express, “The planes skimmed over the water and I could see spray flying up. Then came an explosion and then another.”

Sebago Lake boaters immediately began a search mission to try to rescue the flyers, but they could find no trace of the aircraft or the pilots. In the early afternoon, military investigators arrived and amphibian planes, Marines and the U.S. Navy were sent to assist in the search. Despite their efforts, the only wreckage found was a headrest and an antenna. It looked as though the two ill-fated airmen had found their final resting place in the depths of a lake thousands of miles from their homeland and families.

Haley Pal, a Windham resident and active member of the Windham Historical Society, can be contacted at

In 2003, Alfred Hagen, a worldwide adventurer and experienced warbird salvager, made his case for locating and retrieving the aircraft, and possibly the pilots’ remains, from their watery graves. “I am here to represent the pilots,” he said at Maine court proceedings to decide whether retrieving the bodies and wrecks would be allowed. “We’re talking about two young men. They gave up more than just their lives. They gave up the fullness of their lives, a chance to go home, the chance to fall in love and have children, the chance to tell their stories to their grandchildren. They have been forgotten by men and by time.”

Despite his efforts, the courts disagreed. The British government decided, and Maine agreed, that its two pilots and their aircraft should be allowed to rest in peace.

In 2010, another search was made by the Historic Aircraft Recovery Corporation, co-owned by Hagen. It was able to locate one of the planes using sonar images and a remote-controlled video camera. Again, a case was made for retrieval. U.S. District Judge George Z. Singal explained that Sebago Lake is considered a “great pond” because it is not navigable for federal purposes. Because of that, the lake, its contents and all submerged beneath its waters are held in trust by the state of Maine, which had earlier agreed with the British government that neither the planes nor the bodies of the airmen should be disturbed.

And so, two young British officers remain far in the depths, 300 feet below the surface of Sebago Lake. We salute them as brothers and thank them for their service and for giving their lives in the cause of freedom.

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