The Royal Air Force as seen by John Cooper

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Bizarre and Tragic Accidents

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Since the end of World War Two and up until the end of the 20th century there have been many aircraft accidents within the Royal Air Force, we have all heard some good old chestnuts as to the runway wasn't long enough, or the aircraft ran out of fuel or instead of liftimg the flap lever I lifted the undercarriage lever. Here are some of the more bizarre stories in chronological order:-
Auster        No one in cockpit when propeller swung to start engine, aircraft moved forward and  was written off.
Auster      Caught fire whilst being carried on a truck in India.
Liberator  Pilot blinded by snowglare whilst flying over Labrador
3 Dakota's from 10 Squadron Burma all missing on same day (20 died)
Sunderland  landing at Hong Kong overshot waterway and ended up on land.
A Boston hit a double decker bus on final approach in Somerset (8)
A Mosquito hit a totem pole in Yorkshire
Meteor over Lincolnshire, fuselage broke in half.
Auster in India ran into tree on start up, propeller swung to start engine, no one in cockpit.
Auster over Suffolk shot itself down when Very pistol fired, aircraft caught fire and crashed.
Tempest over Suffolk a propeller blade flew off, aircraft crashed on to Station Head Quarters.  

Meteor at Sussex airfield, groundcrew member sucked into air intake when engine running.
Mosquito in Staffordshire crashed on hospital during aerobatic display (12) and on same day another Mosquito this time in Kent dived into crowd during aerobatic display and coincidentally a further 12 were tragically killed.
A Mosquito was shot down by an Israeli P-51 Mustang
4 Vampires crashed en route to air display in Italy.
A Tiger Moth hit haystack whilst low flying.
Another Moth crashed in Gloucestershire each pilot thought the other pilot was flying the aircraft!
An Athena aircraft over Suffolk, both wings folded in bad weather conditions.
A Valetta crashed at Lyneham just after take-off wrong propeller feathered when engine caught fire (5), I was a lad of 12 at this time and this aircraft crashed no more than 400 yards from where we were living.
Meteor in Northumberland hit officers mess on take-off.
Probably the most bizarre write-off was a Harvard in Derbyshire that was following a railway line with a tunnel ahead, pilot was unable to pull - up in time (1)
A little heard of story of a Lincoln bomber shot down by a MIG-15 over East Germany (7)
(29/07/2002 Ken Gibbs an ex Lincoln Flight Engineer has made contact and informs me that details of the above can be found in the book 'Lincoln at War 1944-66' by Mike Garbett & Brian Goulding published by Ian Allen Ltd)
A Tempest over Germany hit by gunfire from a Sabre jet whilst towing target.
Another quirk of fate, here two Meteor F-8's from different stations disintegrated during low runs at air displays, both on the same day.
4 Meteor F-8's from 56 Squadron ran out of fuel and crashed.

A Harvard was destroyed on the ground after being hit by a Very light, aircraft preparing to take-off.
I recall this one making the headlines, a Varsity was 'stolen' by an RAF groundcrew member and whilst flying this aircraft solo it crashed in France (1)
6 Hunters crashed and were written-off after running out of fuel in bad weather within minutes of each other. 
Canberra shot down by a MIG-17 over Lebanon.
An Anson missed the airfield in Wiltshire and landed in an adjacent field instead.
4 Canberra's (someone who was there reminds me that these were Venoms) destroyed in a hangar fire in Cyprus.
A Hastings landed in the sea with undercarriage down 1.5 miles short of RAF Gan runway, I was on board!
Again a Hastings, this time at RAF El Adem, the pilots seat slid back on take-off (17)
The wing of a Vulcan hit the ground after running out of fuel at a US Air Show whilst landing  and then skidded into Air Traffic Control . (Have been informed that this could be XM576 in May 1965 in England )
The pilot of a Hunter lifted the undercarriage to avoid hitting a heron (bird) sitting on Bahrein's runway.
The only RAF Britannia to have been written off in service (XL638 the same one I was involved with in an undercarriage emergency in 1960 at Karachi), this time no reverse pitch and ended up in the sea at RAF Khormaksar.

A Hercules Transport Aircraft somehow engaged reverse thrust after take-off (6)
2 Red Arrows Gnats crashed, one really was on fire but another pilot was told his was on fire so he ejected!
3 Varsity's at Finningley caught fire in a hangar.
2 Gnats collided in the famous cross-over manoeuvre in a flypast (4)
A Bassett crashed in N. Wales when AVTUR (Jet fuel) was put into aircraft in error (1)
A Hawk jet from the Red Arrows hit a yacht mast at an air show in Sussex.
A Sepcat Jaguar was hit by a lightning strike on take-off in Germany.
A Jaguar of 14 Squadron was hit and downed by a Sidewinder missile fired from a Phantom over West Germany.
The Navigator of a Tornado ejected in odd circumstances off Norfolk, there was no response from the pilot. (1)
The pilot of a Harrier Jump Jet involuntarily ejected, the aircraft flew on for some 300 miles before crashing in theAtlantic off Ireland. (1)

The pilot of a Phantom passed out whilst airborne and the Navigator ejected over Scotland. (1)
A Nimrod from RAF Kinloss ditched into the sea after two engines caught fire, the aircrew sat on the floating aircraft until the rescue was effected.
A VC10 was written-off when the aircraft tipped on to its tail whilst being defuelled.
A Harrier ditches into the sea at Lowestoft Air Show in front of 180000 spectators. The pilot ejected safely before impact at low level.
Although a war related incident the Tornado of 9 Sqn RAF Marham was returning from a mission in Iraq was 'downed' by a US Patriot missile battery, making it Bizarre and Tragic (2)

20/09/1945 There were 12 RAF Aircraft written-off through accidents including 3 Thunderbolts. (4)
21/09/1945 There were 13 write-offs, four of them in a gale. (2)
02/10/1945 There were 14 write-offs, including 3 Spitfires. (19)
30/11/1945 There were 12 write-offs, including 3 Lancasters (14)
19/12/1945 There were 11 write-offs, including 4 Spitfires (2)
30/01/1946 There were 10 write-offs, including 3 Dakotas (2)
01/02/1946 There were 20 write-offs, including 11 in a gale at sea in Italy.
25/02/1946 There were 18 write-offs, including 11 Halifax aircraft sabotaged in Palestine.
14/03/1946 There were 12 write-offs, including 3 Thunderbolts. (5)  
Thereafter thankfully, there were never this many incidents in the RAF in one single day.

15/06/1945 Liberator over Dorset (27)
29/09/1945 Lancaster carrying passengers from Italy to UK (26)
04/10/1945 Lancaster carrying passengers from Italy to UK (25) two within 6 days,
07/10/1945 Stirling crashed in France (26)
13/10/1945 Liberator crashed in Belgium (31)
15/10/1945 Sunderland in Malaya (22)
15/10/1945 Liberator over Hampshire (23) Returning Czech refugees to their own country.
05/11/1945 Lancaster carrying passengers from Italy to UK (26)
11/11/1945 Stirling carrying passengers from Libya (28)
22/11/1945 Liberator over Somerset carrying troops (27)  
23/11/1945 Dakota, passengers and crew murdered by rebels after crash landing (26)
03/12/1945 Liberator. A wing detached in flight over France. (28)
15/01/1946 Dakota over France in bad weather (23) 2 survived
08/06/1946 Dakota over Nigeria, weather related. (22)
25/07/1946 Dakota over Burma, port wing damaged in bad weather. (22)
19/09/1946 Lancaster, thought to have been hit by lightning. (25)
06/10/1946 York, crashed into sea off Malaya. (21)
15/01/1953 A Lancaster and Valetta collided at night off Italy (26)
17/04/1957 Valetta over Jordan, resultant wing failure. (27)
06/07/1965 Hastings over Oxfordshire, elevator failure. (41)
09/11/1971 Hercules, parachute exercise over Italy. (52)
02/06/1994 Chinook Helicopter over the Mull of Kintyre. (29)       

Over a period of 55 years the RAF lost nearly 8500 aircraft, those were effectively beyond economic repair (Struck Off Charge SOC), there were many thousands of others that were repaired after coming to grief. Sadly in that time nearly 5000 crew, passengers and persons on the ground were killed. But taken in its context with the millions of miles flown, and the number of sorties undertaken the RAF still maintains one of the best safety records in the world and that comes from someone who has been there, worn the T-shirt and sent the postcard, but only by the skin of his teeth!  

John Holloway has sent this in 14th January 2006

18/10/1956 Canberra WH950 617 Sqdn crashed whilst attempting an emergency landing at RAF Mauripur whilst still carrying a full load of fuel. 

The Squadron was returning to the UK after a a detachment to Butterworth where they were engaged in bombing operations against the communist terrorists in the Malay jungle 

The pilot contacted me in 2001 after seeing an article that I had submitted to the now defunct UKMAMS OBA website in which I had mentioned the crash. He told me that after take-off at the top of the climb some 160 miles up the coast there was an engine failure accompanied by a fire warning light. He headed straight back to Mauripur and put down on one engine well over landing weight. 

Unfortunately he rather bent it and it was written off. He spent a number of days in sick quarters before continuing his journey to the UK in a much slower Hastings.!!


Another Mauripur crash was a RNZAF Bristol Freighter in April 1954. It was shipped to the UK for rebuild. In December 1956 it crashed whilst dropping supplies in the Cameron Highlands Malaya with a number of fatalities.


There is of course this bizarre accident, which does not appear much on any websites but is Crown Copyright and extracted from Hansard regarding the crash at Islay with HRH Prince Charles at the controls

From Hansard 19th July 1995

Queens Flight (Incident at Islay )

Mr. Butcher: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the findings of the inquiry into the incident at Islay in June 1994 involving an aircraft of the Queens flight. [36349]

Mr. Arbuthnot: The inquiry into the incident on 29 June 1994 when a BAe 146 of the Queens flight ran off the runway after landing at Islay has been completed and I have placed a summary in the Library of the House. The captain and navigator were responsible for the safe operation of the aircraft and the supervision of HRH the Prince of Wales, who was flying as a pilot under instruction. The inquiry judged that the captain and navigator had been negligent in failing adequately to plan and to correct the approach and landing. Procedures for appointments of aircrew to the Queens Flight which is now part of No. 32 (The Royal)

Many accidents are discussed here or here


From Owen Vaughan with thanks October 2011

You may be interested in the Vamprie (Mk V) from RAF Valley flown by Sgt Carmichael who low on fuel did a few circuits of of the disused airfield at RAF Carew Cheriton Pembroke, then decided to land at a speed approaching 100 miles an hour. due to the poor state of the concrete he decided to do a "belly flop" without landing gear, the aircraft was recoverable. October 1951

Due to their Pembroke Connections I have further details on the unarmed Mossie P.R. shot down by an American flying for the Israel Air Force.
24 Apr 1917   Flt Lt Richard Eldon Bush whilst flying a Float Plane in Fishguard Harbour got the floats caught up in cables (Above what is now the Ferry Port), the aircraft out of control hit the cliffs and caught fire, sadly Bush was killed.
January 1951 An aircraft of 631 Sqdn was flying target towing out of RAF Llanbedr along the North Wales coast for the benefit of ack-ack gunners. The propeller fell of and only the quick response of LAC John the target operator in cutting the cable saved the aircraft from ditching in the sea. The pilot was able to glide inland and safely put down in a field among some sheep. I have not yet discovered what aircraft type. History is a bit confusing as it is reported that this sqdn had disbanded by 1949 and only flew spitfires. The above proves this to be wrong on both counts.
Owen Vaughan
Pembrokeshire Military related headstones 1722 to 2008

I receive many e.mails from people seeking information about various accidents involving RAF aircraft, I do not hold these records, they are held by
The Archivist
Royal Air Force Museum
Grahame Park Way
You will need the following information
Time/Date/Place of accident
Aircraft Type and Serial Number
...and a Stamped Addressed Envelope is always useful A4 Size
or you can leave a message on the Guestbook, many eye witnesses come forward this way, take it from my experience!
Copyright   John Cooper


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