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Thread: 39 Sqn Canberra Crash 3 May 1977

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    39 Sqn Canberra Crash 3 May 1977

    On 3rd May 1977 a 39 Sqn Canberra returning to its base at RAF Wyton crashed two miles short of the runway into a housing estate at Oxmoor in Huntingdon.

    I distinctly remember some pretty graphic photographs that appeared in the papers the following day, one in particular of a priest standing over the body of one of the crew members still strapped into his seat.

    3 children were also killed in the crash, IIRC they were having a bath at the time.

    Out of interest, as it is a memory that has remained with me from the age of 12, I searched the internet for further details. Apart from a House of Commons report at the time, I can find very little about this incident.

    Can anyone here help ?
    Ian

    MAKING A LIVING IN PHOTOGRAPHY BUT ONLY ON MY WIFE'S TALENTS

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    There's a few pages about it here...
    http://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchi...0-%203789.html

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    As i understand it one engine was lost on the approach, and although the crew had time to get out they stayed with the aircraft, desperately trying to get it away from the houses below. A sad reminder.

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    I also remember it vividly,( but being a bit more than 12) living nearby and knowing flightcrew on the base. It was an awful event and the sort of thing which impinges so harshly on the memory. The cause however was likely to have been pilot error - see link. What made you enqire about it now?

    http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/w...craft-accident

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    I always wondered where that came down, was born after the event but lived on the 'loverly' estate, was it on essex road?

    M

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    I think it was Sapley Road, but couldn't be 100% sure. I remember the space where the house was demolished being empty for a long time afterwards - perhaps it still is.

    Correction: it was Norfolk Road.
    Last edited by Red Hunter; 18th March 2010 at 15:49. Reason: Correction.

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    Cause of the crash

    A very sad day for all at Wyton and in Huntingdon.

    The aircraft was performing a practice assymetric overshoot, one engine at flight idle.

    When full power was applied to the "good" engine the rudder had insufficent authority to counter the torque, resulting in the fin stalling and the inevitable tragic result.

    The BOI requested a subsequent trial to prove this theory. It was performed at high altitude by a test pilot (flying without a navigator) in XH176.

    Theory proved correct, but pilot unable to recover from the subsequent spin and ejected at a safe altitude.

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    Hi there i had heard the the pilot stayed with the Canberra to avoid hitting the school,
    below is a link to a news report (3rd one down on the right):

    http://www.360sqn.co.uk/LINE%20OFF.html

    all the best Matt

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    Quote Originally Posted by JoeyR View Post
    I also remember it vividly,( but being a bit more than 12) living nearby and knowing flightcrew on the base. It was an awful event and the sort of thing which impinges so harshly on the memory. The cause however was likely to have been pilot error - see link. What made you enqire about it now?
    I was reading about the retirement of the Canberra and it brought this incident and the picture I recall of the priest standing over the crew member, an image vividly etched on my memory as I don't think such an image would be published today.
    Ian

    MAKING A LIVING IN PHOTOGRAPHY BUT ONLY ON MY WIFE'S TALENTS

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    Quote Originally Posted by ColdWarWimp View Post
    A very sad day for all at Wyton and in Huntingdon.

    The aircraft was performing a practice assymetric overshoot, one engine at flight idle.

    When full power was applied to the "good" engine the rudder had insufficent authority to counter the torque, resulting in the fin stalling and the inevitable tragic result.

    The BOI requested a subsequent trial to prove this theory. It was performed at high altitude by a test pilot (flying without a navigator) in XH176.

    Theory proved correct, but pilot unable to recover from the subsequent spin and ejected at a safe altitude.
    What about the comment in the report that it was likely the wings were not level when power was applied. Was this simulated in the test you describe? Although I recall reports at the time that the pilot did not eject to save a school that does not seem to square with the facts in the report which imply that the crash was unavoidable considering the loss of control at low altitude and the steep angle of descent.

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    Sadly Joe, from reports of the accident what you say is nearer the facts.

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    so thats where it was! wasnt there a similar accident at the drome itself on the a141 involving the station commander ? or am I getting confudled? so there was also a school between sapley park n the yank estate? I dont recall ever hearing about a memorial plaque or anything either?

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    Your thinking of the early/mid nineties.. when a Canberra took off on a sortie to base in Scotland and the pilot, who was apparently not in the best frame of mind to fly, shut down the starboard engine to simulate losing an engine on take-off. The aircraft subsequently veered off to starboard and cartwheeled across the main A141 Huntingdon to Chatteris road, disintegrating as it went. I also seem to recall it was raining at the time as well.

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    I remember being on shift at Kinloss on 27th June 1990, when a Canberra E15 WH972 crashed before the runway 25 threshold. On attempting an overshoot in heavy rain and low cloud, the port engine surged under the application of power, and the arcraft yawed and rolled rapidly to the left.
    The navigator ejected as the aircraft started rolling, and survived with major injuries, but the pilot ejected when the aircraft was almost inverted, and was sadly killed on impact with the ground.

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    Asymetric approaches was the achilles heel of the Canberra, with concerns being shown early on its career.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JoeyR View Post
    I think it was Sapley Road, but couldn't be 100% sure. I remember the space where the house was demolished being empty for a long time afterwards - perhaps it still is.

    Correction: it was Norfolk Road.
    The house is rebuilt as it was before the accident, not sure that it was ever fully demolished after the crash.

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    A former colleague whose son attended Sapley Park School, told me that debris from the crash ended up in the playground. Had it not been for the pilot staying at the flight deck it could've been a disaster of epic proportions, it doesn't bare thinking about. It went down at the top of Norfolk Road. I remember reading on the net that an entire row of terrace houses was taken out and subsequently demolished, iirc 7 houses in total. Great lengths were went to, to ensure that the new houses were identical in appearance and specification, even down to sourcing the materials from the same suppliers. Incidentally the school was demolished relatively recently and a new house estate is in the process of being built. Just out of interest would anyone happen to know what tail number the Canberra was?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Al View Post
    I remember being on shift at Kinloss on 27th June 1990, when a Canberra E15 WH972 crashed before the runway 25 threshold. On attempting an overshoot in heavy rain and low cloud, the port engine surged under the application of power, and the arcraft yawed and rolled rapidly to the left.
    The navigator ejected as the aircraft started rolling, and survived with major injuries, but the pilot ejected when the aircraft was almost inverted, and was sadly killed on impact with the ground.
    I'm sure that WH972 was the first Canberra I flew in when it was a B.6.

    John

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    I was NCO i/c of the two recovery teams sent from Repair & Salvage Flight at RAF Abingdon.
    I arrived that evening with the section W/O to survey the site to determine what equipment would be needed for recovery. When we arrived the two crew had been removed as had the children. The houses were relatively unscathed with the tail unit stood up against one of them. Our biggest problem was that the aircraft had impacted between the two rows of houses immediately on top of the various services, water elect. etc.
    The following days the remains of the aircraft were removed to a hangar at Wyton under the supervision of AAIB and laid out in their correct positions to aid the investigation. I do believe the aircraft was carrying out a full assymetric with the engine shut down. After this accident I believe the procedure changed to reducing the power on one engine to idle.

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    I know this is an old post but i only found it yesterday.

    I was talking to my son about the crash which happened 3rd May 1977 approx lunchtime.

    In 1977 and on that day, i lived in Norfolk road, Huntingdon although at the far end out of harms way.

    The Canberra in question came right over the top of Sapley Park Primary school at low level, i was 9 years old and in one of the class rooms. Probably been naughty....

    I heard the noise of the plane over the school and the noise as it crashed along with the shudder through the ground.

    I can remember the school had a tall tower at the centre of the buildings a chimney i guess, my friends were playing outside as the Canberra went over.

    I remember there was a piece of common land to the side of the school and my friend Franks house backed onto the school field.
    i can still remember people telling me how the plane came over the part of the school i was in, banked over the common land at the far end too close to the houses. I can still remember people talking about where the pilot was trying to get to and that had he of had more height to work with may of cleared the houses. Once over the houses the there was space between where maybe he could have gone down maybe or maybe he was trying to get to the sports field to the wider open end of the street.

    I dont know, i do remember people saying he could have ditched the plane. Had he done so i probably wouldn't be posting this now.

    Sean

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    Whilst not wishing to **** on anyone's bonfire, I note that whenever there's an accident 'the pilot was wrestling the controls' to miss . . . whatever.

    Fortunately I've only nearly stoofed in once. We were so busy trying to get the aircraft on an even keel that what was underneath was the least of our problems.

    Undoubtedly some pilots have stayed put, but it's too easy to always apply this 'heroic' aspect that frankly doesn't exist in reality.

    I spent some time as Flight Safety Officer (deputy) at Wyton and had to write an exercise for the Station Crash and disaster plan. We looked at the Oxmoor crash but went for another option. A few months later it happened and the Station Commander and two colleagues I'd discussed likely scenarios with were killed in it. Very spooky, I was stuck in the traffic jam without knowing what had happened, being at another station by then.

    Three funerals in two days wasn't much fun either. RIP Reg, Eddie and Dave

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    With regard to the above comment on Hero pilots/crew, i can only repeat what was said to me many many years ago by my instructor Pat Long an ex Lancaster pilot. "Philip my boy do you know why the hero pilot always avoids the school or buildings in a forced landing?" "No Pat why?" " Because they are made from brick, if they were sponge rubber or bales of straw they would get clobbered every time"
    Any pilot having even the slightest control of an aircraft involved in a forced landing would aim for the biggest reachable open space, even if its the back garden of a terraced house in Willenhall Staffs! (Alex Henshaw, in a Spitfire)
    Happy landings!!!!

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    Not sure if anyone's still interested in this thread but thought I'd let you know there's a 40 year memorial service on May 3rd, 2017 at the crash site in Norfolk road.

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    Thanks for flagging this up Nichola - I have two students living nearby and I will let them know about this.

    DR
    Listening out for something interesting approaching...

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