Monday, 28 March 2011

Military Monday - Air Show Tragedy, Kent, 1948

On 18 September 1948 the RAF experienced an extremely black day; three de Havilland Mosquito aircraft were lost in accidents killing the crews and a number of civillians.  All were taking part in airshows.  VA887 dived into the ground during a slow roll at Coningsby, Lincolnshire.  TA507 stalled during its aerobatic display and crashed into a hospital at Lichfield; as well as the crew 10 people on the ground died.  TE808 hit the ground at RAF Manston in Kent killing 12 spectators and the crew.

The airshow at RAF Manston was an annual event to commemorate the Battle of Britain.  Crowds of people thronged the camp in the late summer sunshine to look at the aircraft before the show and marvel at the aerobatic displays.  On that Saturday the lead Mosquito aircraft was piloted by 29 year old Flt Lt Geoffrey Hanson.  His navigator was 46 year old Flt Lt James Martin.  Flt Lt Hanson flew his aircraft in formation with the other two Mossies before peeling off to perform some solo manoeuvres.  A young eyewitness remembered that the aircraft was so low that he could see the pilot's face and that the navigator had smiled and waved to the crowd.  His father had remarked that he was "too bloody low".  Indeed he was.  The exact cause of the accident is uncertain but it seems likely that the wing tip of the aircraft clipped the raised cover of a reservoir causing the pilot to lose control.  He may have attempted to steer his aircraft away from the crowded camp causing it to crash instead onto the access road to the show.  Sadly the road too was full of vehicles and people making their way to the show; twelve of them died. Some people had lucky escapes, being pulled from their burning cars by local farm workers and other spectators.  Flt Lt Hanson's wife witnessed the accident but was unharmed.

The pilot and navigator are buried together at Margate Cemetery.  I don't know what became of Flt Lt Hanson's widow or whether he had children.  Flt Lt Martin, who had served throughout WWII, left a widow and five children ranging from 15 to 6 years old.  I am lucky to be the daughter-in-law of his youngest child.


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