1938: The loss of RAF Swordfish Mk 1 K5985

On the afternoon of Friday, March 18, 1938, a student on the torpedo course at the Torpedo Training Unit at RAF Gosport took off at 2.15pm in a Mk1 Swordfish K5985 on a training cross-country flight to Roborough, near Plymouth.

The pilot was Plt Off Frederick Edgar Williams, 21; his two passengers “along for the ride” were Cpl Cyril John Coles, 32, and LAC David Samuel Hurrel, 21. Plt Off Williams had just over 200 hours in his log book, of which 25 were on the Swordfish. He was briefed to return to Gosport if the weather deteriorated, but seems to have encountered low cloud approaching the Purbecks and tried to duck under it.

He appears to have passed low over Orchard Hill Farm at 2.45pm, clipped the top of the trees in Polar Wood – leaving sections of the aircraft in the tree tops – and nose-dived into the steep hillside some 300 yards away. The Bristol Pegasus engine detached and rolled further down the valley.

All three on board were probably killed instantly, despite the brave efforts of a local man, Mr Bob Dorey, who climbed up from Encombe House to the blazing wreckage with two fire extinguishers and attempted to get close enough to pull them from the inferno. Other local folk also tried to get near to the wreckage but were beaten back by the heat.

Personnel from the Sick Bay Unit at RAF Warmwell attended the scene and had the difficult task of retrieving the three bodies and carrying them to the top of the ridge before taking them back to base in their ambulance.

The Coroner’s inquest recorded a verdict of accidental death.

Memorial Seat

A Purbeck stone seat was dedicated on 25 October 1987 to the memory of the air crew and passengers killed in two aircraft crashes near the spot in 1938 and 1945.

Memorial Seat. Photo courtesy of Michael Day.

IN MEMORY OF THOSE WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES IN FLYING ACCIDENTS AT THIS SPOT

THE 3 CREW MEMBERS AND PASSENGERS OF SWORDFISH Mk 1 k5985 OF THE TORPEDO TRAINING UNIT, R.A.F. GOSPORT ON 18TH MARCH 1938.

THE 27 CREW MEMBERS AND PASSENGERSOF LIBERATOR Mk 1X JT985 OF NO 232 SQUADRON, R.A.F. TRANSPORT COMMAND, ON 15TH JUNE 1945.

WE WILL REMEMBER THEM

kingston memorial seat dedication

Wing Commander Dom Stamp, OC No 30 Hercules Squadron at RAF Lyneham; with Mr Chas Wallace, Chairman of the Wool (Founder) Branch of the Aircrew Association. Photograph courtesy of Colin Pomeroy.

The photographs below were taken during and after the memorial service, which was accompanied by a flypast.

Photo courtesy of Belinda Norman.

 

Photo courtesy of Belinda Norman.

Photo courtesy of Belinda Norman.

Photo courtesy of Belinda Norman.

Roy Hooper and Reggie Prior. Both ran to the scene of the Liberator crash in 1945. Photo courtesy of Belinda Norman.

Photo courtesy of Belinda Norman.

Photo courtesy of Belinda Norman.

L-R Reg Prior, Roy Hooper, Belinda Norman, Mervin Trimbae, Pete Lardner. Image courtesy of Belinda Norman.

2007: Memorial to two plane tragedies

A memorial for the victims of two plane crashes has been unveiled at Purbeck.

An RAF Swordfish Mark One aircraft from RAF Gosport crashed near Corfe Castle on March 18, 1938, killing three people.

On June 15, 1945, an RAF Liberator Mark Four aircraft from RAF Transport Command’s 232 Squadron also crashed there, killing 27 passengers and crew.

Bournemouth Echo, Thursday 1 November 2007

1938: Dorset R.A.F. Crash

Disaster in Coastal Fog – Three Men Killed near Corfe Castle – Aircraft in Flames

The three occupants of an R.A.F. aeroplane, a Fairy Swordfish, bound from Gosport to Roborough, near Plymouth, on Friday afternoon, were killed when the machine, after hitting some trees, crashed in a coastal fog, near Encombe House, the Dorsetshire residence of the Hon. Sir Ernest S. Scott, K.C.M.G., M.V.O. Hearing the noise of the crash, Sir Ernest went to the scene with some of his employees, but was unable to render assistance owing to the flames which burst from the wreckage.

The dead men were Pilot-Officer Frederick Edgar Williams, Corporal Cyril John Coles, and Leading-Aircraftsman David Samuel Hurrell.

Eye-Witness’s Story

Mr. E. Hixon [Hixson], of the Encombe Estate Office, who, with others, heard the crash and rushed to the spot in a motor-car, told a representative of this paper that the ‘plane was flying in the fog over the coast line at 2.45 p.m. and must have hit some tree on the road to Swyre Head, just outside the village of Kingston, near Corfe Castle. When he arrived the aeroplane was in flames. “There were three men in it, but we could not get near them owing to the great heat. I think the men must have been killed when the plane crashed.” The aeroplane had rolled down through the trees and then down the hill-side in the vale. An overcoat of R.A.F. blue, was thrown out of the aeroplane, and in the pocket was a handkerchief bearing the name ‘Williams, Gosport.’”

The bodies were subsequently removed to the mortuary at the Poor-law Institution, at Wareham, pending the inquest on Tuesday by the Coroner for East Dorset (Mr. R. N. Neville-Jones).

“Flying Too Low”

Coroner and Cause of Accident.

Graphic stories of the disaster were told the Coroner by witnesses and the jury, of whom Mr. S. W. Roshier was foreman, returned a verdict of “Accidental Death.”

The Coroner, reviewing the evidence, observed for some reason or other the aeroplane was flying very much too low round the Purbeck Hills, and one of the probable reasons for that was that there was a good deal of low cloud about, and the pilot, having lost sight of the ground, came down to see if he could see it again, and in doing so, unfortunately, came down too low and had the very great misfortune to strike some trees. Had he been a very few feet further up he would have missed them altogether and got out to sea quite safely.

How Men were Identified

Leading Aircraftsman Gwyn Lewis, of the R.A.F., stationed at Gosport, identified Pilot-Officer Williams (aged 21 and single) by his flying overalls, and Corporal Coles (married, aged 32) by his name on a piece of his trousers, which was not burned. Hurrell was aged 21 and single.

Squadron-Leader John Goodenough Elton, commanding the R.A.F.  training squadron at Gosport, stated Mr. Williams was a pupil on torpedo training course, and was on a cross-country training flight to Roborough, which witness had authorised. Williams had had just over 200 hours flying as a pilot, and he was considered one of the best pilots, being qualified in all respects. The two passengers were both members of the training squadron and on a pilot course.

Flying Low Regulations

Coroner: What are the regulations about flying low?

Witness: In the normal course of events a pilot is not supposed to fly lower than 1,000 feet, but he is occasionally forced lower by the weather.

The Coroner: The visibility in places was very good apparently that afternoon, but over the Purbeck Hills and the particular spot where he crashed there was fog.

Witness observed it was supposition, but he thought probably the aeroplane was flying under a cloud and keeping sight of the ground, which a pilot would often do. “They should actually keep up high and wait until they came out of it,” added witness.

The Coroner pointed out that this was the second fatality which had occurred in his district within the last few months due to almost exactly the same cause – fog and low flying, and there was an instruction the pilot should keep up.

Witness: Pilots are definitely instructed not to fly low when they get in bad weather, but remain at a safe height and turn round and trace their way back into the fair weather again. The machine was completely equipped with instruments which showed its height.

The Coroner: What it really amounts to was inexperience and he was doing what he ought not to do – a dangerous procedure? – Yes.

Witness: Oh, yes. In this particular case I instructed the pilot to return if the weather deteriorated after leaving Gosport, where it was quite fine. There were special orders about low flying.

The Coroner: Which are honoured in the breach apparently.

Eye-Witnesses’ Stories

Stories of the disaster were told by witnesses – Misses Bessie Beatrice Marsh, of Orchard Hill Farm, Kingston, Mr Ernest Albert Hixon [Hixson] of Rabling-road, Swanage, a clerk employed at the Encombe Estate Office, Kingston, and Mrs. Alice Pamela Sampson [Sansom], of Encombe.

Mrs. Marsh said her husband remarked, “He is going to hit the house,” it was flying so low – within another foot it would have touched the chimney. There was a very thick mist and she was only just able to make out the outline of the ‘plane as it passed straight over the house. A few seconds later she heard a loud crash in the direction the ‘plane had gone, followed by a loud bang or explosion. She went in a lorry with her husband and found the machine in flames. It had torn right through Polar Wood and was burning fiercely on the hill-side – the sea side of the wood – just below.

Mr. Hixon [Hixson] stated there was a very thick fog. He heard the roar of a ‘plane which seemed directly over-head and apparently travelling at a very fast speed. Next he heard a crash of splintering wood.

From her upstairs window, Mrs. Sampson [Sansom] said she saw the ‘plane fall in flames half-way down the hillside, and she observed an object – what it was she did not know – roll down the hill.

Replying to Mr. R. C. Hockey, Air Ministry Inspector of Accidents, witness said she could not quite remember but she was under the impression the aeroplane hit the hillside before bursting into flames.

P.C. Cutler produced the overcoat of an R.A.F. officer, singed but not badly burnt., which he said he found near where the ‘plane crashed. Parts of the aeroplane were scattered all over the hillside, and trees in polar Wood had had their tops cut off by the plane. Later, with the assistance of other policemen, he recovered the bodies from the wreckage.

The Coroner, on behalf of himself and the jury, expressed to the relatives of deceased, the sympathy which they all felt for them in this “most unfortunate tragedy.” – Inspector G. E. Burt, on behalf on the police, associated himself with these remarks.

Western Gazette, 25 March 1938

1938: Three Killed in R.A.F. Accident

Crash near Corfe Castle

The three occupants of an R.A.F. aeroplane from Gosport were killed yesterday when the machine crashed on a hillside near Corfe Castle, Dorset.

They were: Pilot Officer F. E. Williams; No. 335,888, Corporal C. J. Coles;  and No. 526,069, Leading Aircraftman D. S. Hurrell.

The accident occurred in thick fog. The aeroplane just missed some farm cottages, tore through a small wood, came to rest 200 yards down the hillside, and burst into flames. The engine was torn from the fuselage and came to rest at the bottom of a valley, 300 yards from the wreckage of the fuselage.

Mrs. Marsh, an occupant of one of the cottages, said she saw the aeroplane come out of the fog. It narrowly missed the house and disappeared. She then heard it crash through the wood, and there was a loud explosion.

Sir Ernest Scott, who lives at Encombe House, Corfe Castle, said the aeroplane crashed about 500 yards from his home. He heard the crash and went to the scene with some of his men. There was a thick fog at the time, and it appeared that the machine, which had been flying along the top of the hill, had struck a number of trees in a wood and then fallen down the hillside. The tops of about a dozen trees were cut off.

The Times, Saturday 19 March 1938