Accident Hawker Hurricane Mk I L1690,
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ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 208451
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Date:Monday 26 June 1939
Type:Silhouette image of generic HURI model; specific model in this crash may look slightly different    
Hawker Hurricane Mk I
Owner/operator:1 Sqn RAF
Registration: L1690
Fatalities:Fatalities: 1 / Occupants: 1
Aircraft damage: Destroyed
Location:West Dean Hill, West Dean, West Sussex, England -   United Kingdom
Phase: En route
Departure airport:RAF Tangmere, West Sussex
Destination airport:RAF Tangmere
Confidence Rating: Information is only available from news, social media or unofficial sources
Hawker Hurricane L1690: Written off (destroyed) 26/06/1939 when caught in searchlight beam and spun into the ground at West Dean, West Sussex. F/O William Oliver Chambers Hemmings (pilot) RAF - was killed. According to the official Air Ministry announcement in "Flight" magazine (July 6, 1939 page 7 - see link #3):

F/O William Oliver Chambers Hemmings (flying solo) lost his life in an accident which occurred at West Dean, Sussex, on June 26, to an aircraft of No. 1 Squadron".

According to a contemporary newspaper report of the inquest into the death of the pilot ("Bognor Regis Observer - Wednesday 5 July 1939):


A Tangmere pilot's fatal crash into the side of West Dean Hill during searchlight operations was described at an inquest conducted at the aerodrome on Wednesday on the victim of the disaster, Flying Officer William Oliver Hemmings, aged 24, of Sheffield.

Eye-witnesses described how late on Monday night the deceased's plane was picked up by searchlights and shortly afterwards crashed in flames.

"He died just as much in the service of his country as if he had been fighting for us," was the comment of the Coroner (Mr. J. W. Loader Cooper).

Edmund Moynaham, medical officer at Tangmere, gave evidence of identification. He said he was informed of the crash at 11.25 p.m. and on arriving at West Dean he found the wreckage of a Hurricane single-seater fighter. The deceased, he said, met his death by being blown up in the explosion that followed the crash. Witness added that deceased had just returned from leave and he had seen him the morning before the disaster when he was quite cheerful.

Eye Witness's Account
William George Bertram West, of the Stores, West Dean, one of the eyewitnesses of the disaster, said at the time of the crash he was standing outside his house watching the aeroplanes and searchlights. He saw the deceased's machine flying rather fast and low in a westerly direction. It was illuminated by two searchlights and later three lights were on it at the same time. Just then it dipped out of the lights and went down on the side of the hill with a terrific roar. Witness went to the scene of the crash, and found the plane a mass of flames but the heat was so intense he could not get near to it. As the plane hit the ground it exploded.

Sergeant C. E. Smith, of the Royal Engineers (Territorials), said he saw the machine with its navigation lights on being followed by two beams. One of them illuminated it and the plane dived towards the earth. He could not say if the searchlight followed the plane down to the earth, but he did not think the beam would strike the pilot's face. The instructions given to the searchlight operators were to follow the planes but not to get them in the beam.

"A Red Glare and a Crash"
A police constable who saw the plane fall, P.C. Coopey, said he was standing in East Dean and saw several planes and some searchlights. Looking in a westerly direction he saw three searchlights pick up a plane and illuminate it so he could see it. The plane was in the rays of the light only for a matter of a few seconds. Then the machine disappeared from his view away from the lights. He heard the plane roar as if the throttle had been opened out and afterwards there was a red glare followed by a loud crash. He set off in search of the plane and was unable to trace it, but after receiving information as to where it was he went to the scene. The crash occurred about 400 feet above sea level and the machine and pilot had been blown to pieces.

After further evidence as to the good flying order of the plane had been given by Flight Sergeant Fuller, the jury, without retiring, returned a verdict of "accidental death."


1. Royal Air Force Aircraft L1000-N9999 (James J. Halley, Air Britain, 1983)
2. Bognor Regis Observer - Wednesday 05 July 1939
3. Sheffield Daily Telegraph - Wednesday 28 June 1939 and Friday 30 June 1939

Revision history:

29-Mar-2018 20:41 Dr. John Smith Added
03-Oct-2018 07:12 Nepa Updated [Operator, Operator]
12-Apr-2022 19:51 JINX Updated [Aircraft type, Operator, Destination airport]
13-Apr-2022 00:09 angels one five Updated [Operator, Narrative]
12-Apr-2024 09:44 Nepa Updated [Time, Location, Departure airport, Narrative, Operator]

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