It was December 1975. Norman Peter Gibbs had arrived by ferry on the Inner Hebridian island of the Isle of Mull, Scotland. He was accompanied by his girlfriend, 32 year old Felicity Grainger, twenty-three years his junior. Then known as Peter Gibbs, he was one of ‘the few’, a Spitfire Pilot during World War Two.
After the war, he became a professional musician, playing violin with the Philharmonic Orchestra and the London Symphony Orchestra during the 1950s. He established himself as a successful property developer and had travelled to Mull to look for investment opportunities as he was interested in buying a hotel.
Gibbs kept up his flying after the war and was regularly at the cockpit controls logging in excess of 2,000 flying hours on his Private Pilot’s Licence.
Flight from Mull
They pair stayed at the Glenforsa Hotel on Mull which is adjacent to a small airstrip, Glenforsa Airfield. Gibbs hired a Cessna F150H from the hotel manager, but failed to disclose his Private Pilot’s Licence had expired, saying he had simple forgot to bring it with him.
It was Christmas Eve and the couple flew from Mull to the nearby Isle of Skye, spending the day investigating investment opportunities to add to Gibbs’ property portfolio. They returned to Mull the same day, in time to dine at the hotel.
After dinner, Gibbs decided to take a solo flight in the small two-seater craft. We can only speculate what made him want to go back up on his own. Was he reliving his wartime memories of dogfights in his Spitfire? Nobody will know.
It was highly unusual for the airfield to be used at night, as at the time it was unlit. However, the ever determined Gibbs borrowed a couple of torches to allow his girlfriend to guide him in for the landing. Gibbs took off into the moonless sky intending to perform a circuit and then come back down to land at the same airfield. Hotel guests looked on as the plane disappeared behind a ridge of trees.
He would never been seen again.
After a short time, it became apparent when the plane did not return that something dreadful had happened. A huge search effort ensued to try and locate both Gibbs and plane. This lasted right through the festive period. Despite extensive search efforts, it would be another four months before Gibbs’ body would be found by a shepherd, on a remote hill around a mile away from the airfield. The body was so badly decomposed, only the clothing prevented the disarticulation of the body.
The remains were taken to Glasgow for a post mortem examination, yet the doctor in charge could not establish any clues relating to the cause of death. There were no obvious signs of trauma that you would expect to see on someone who had fallen from an aeroplane.
Cruicially the forensic tests carried out on Gibbs’ boots and clothing showed no trace of salt water contact or any contact with marine biological entities. In the absence of any further evidence the pathologist could only conclude the cause of death was ‘Exposure’.
The search effort shifted to find the plane and focused on woodlands. It remains un-found. Only a single wheel that was washed ashore is believed to have been recovered.
Does the lack of any evidence of contact with salt water on Gibbs’ clothing suggest he did not go down with the plane and simply jumped out to his death?
Why would a successful businessman, possibly flying to impress his girlfriend, jump out of a perfectly serviceable aircraft?
It doesn’t make sense when the whole purpose of the trip to the islands was forward looking to expand Gibbs’ property investments.
What else could explain Gibbs’ body being found on land, but no sight of the plane if he hadn’t left the plane in mid-air?
Could it be that this case a forerunner to the Zigmund Adamski case of 1980?