Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Meopham Air Disaster - 21st July 1930

Eighty years ago today, a Junkers F 13 (G-AAZK) of Walcot Air Line set off from Berck-sur-Mer near Le Touquet, France.

At the controls were Lieutenant Colonel George "Budgie" Henderson MC AFC, a very distinguished and experienced former RAF World War 1 pilot and Mr Charles Shearing, assistant pilot - also ex RAF.

On board were four wealthy passengers returning from a weekend high society party.

The weather was very poor for the time of year with gale force winds and driving rain. However, despite the terrible conditions, the aircraft safely crossed the English Channel and continued on it's flight over Kent heading towards Croydon, which at that time, was London's main airport.

At around 2.35 PM, disaster struck!

High above the skies of Meopham, a rural village on the outskirts of Gravesend, eye witnesses reported hearing a sound like an explosion and then looking up in horror as the aircraft disintegrated in mid air and bodies fell to the ground.

The wreckage from the aircraft was spread over a wide area. The aircrew and passengers all perished in the crash. Five of the bodies were found dead in Leylands Orchard but the assistant pilot was still strapped in his seat alive.

He was carefully removed from the aircraft by the local Bobby and the village Doctor was summoned quickly. Sadly the assistant pilot never regained consciousness and died shortly afterwards.

The passengers.

Frederick Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, 3rd Marquess of Dufferin and Ava was born in Ottawa, Canada in 1875. He joined the British Army and served with distinction in the Second Boer War, was awarded the DSO and gained the rank of Captain.

After leaving the Army in 1913 he was appointed military secretary to the Governor General of Australia. In 1914 he rejoined his old regiment and was seriously wounded whilst serving on the Western Front. In the autumn of 1915 he was again seriously wounded having only returned to duty three days earlier.

In 1921 Lord Dufferin was elected to the Senate of the Northern Ireland Parliament where he served as Speaker until his untimely death.


Society beauty Lady Rosemary Millicent Leveson-Gower, Viscountess Ednam was born on 9th August 1893. She was the daughter of the 4th Duke of Sutherland and wife of the 3rd Earl of Dudley whom she had been visiting in France.

Sir Edward Simons Ward, 2nd Baronet Ward was born on 1st July 1882. Educated at Eton, he served with the Grenadier Guards during the First World War and achieved the rank of Captain.

Mrs Henrik Loeffler was married to a mining engineer with business interests in South Africa. She was a very well known society hostess and had organised the party in France attended by the Marquess and Sir Edward.

The aftermath.
The loss of so many high profile society figures in one fell swoop prompted the Air Ministry to launch an extensive investigation into the cause of the crash. The enquiry was lead by Major Cooper and the results were to be made public for the first time. A precursor to the modern day AAIB (Air Accidents Investigation Branch).
The aircraft manufacturers, Junkers and the German Government also conducted an investigation into the aircraft's loss.
Following extensive scientific tests conducted at Croydon, Major Cooper concluded that the aircraft's loss was due to a phenomenon he called "tail buffeting". Under certain wind conditions and above a particular air speed it was found that the aircraft would suffer severe vibration which could cause catastrophic structural failure.
The Germans on the other hand discounted this theory and seemed to imply that the crash may have been due to pilot error and/or the weather conditions.
It should be born in mind that the Great War had only ended just over ten years prior to the accident and Anglo-German relations were naturally still very strained. Admission of any potential deficiency with the Junkers aircraft would have been an embarrassment for both the company and the German government.
Needless to say, the British Air Ministry accepted the outcome of Major Cooper's enquiry.
Pathe news.
I came across a brief news film report on the Pathe archive web site. Here is the link.

If you have enjoyed reading this post, please feel free to leave a comment. They are always welcome.
Further posts you may find of interest...

5 comments:

  1. What a story! How amazing that the one small plane crash could take out so many of the nobility. I wonder if as much evidence would have been gathered and publicised, had the passengers been coal miners.

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  2. Hi Hels - very true but of course in reality at that time the ONLY people who could afford to travel by plane were the upper classes.

    Glen

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  3. www.mapsl.co.uk/
    Hi this is worth a gander-also a visit-for large and small boys.Interesting blog,keep it coming.

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  4. The local police officer on the scene was Sergeant Charles Eve who was based at Cobham. He was my grandad. I have a small file of clippings from The Times and Flight which I can share if you email chriseve@shaw.ca

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