Accident Hawker Horsley Mk II J8012,
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ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 212114
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Date:Friday 18 March 1927
Time:11:55 LT
Type:Hawker Horsley Mk II
Owner/operator:11 Sqn RAF
Registration: J8012
Fatalities:Fatalities: 2 / Occupants: 2
Aircraft damage: Destroyed
Location:Elham, near Folkestone, Kent -   United Kingdom
Phase: En route
Departure airport:RAF Netheravon, Wiltshire
Destination airport:RAF Hawkinge, Folkestone, Kent
Confidence Rating: Information is only available from news, social media or unofficial sources
Hawker Horsley Mk.II J8012, 11 Squadron, RAF Netheravon, Wiltshire: Written off (destroyed) 18/3/1927 when stalled, nose dived into the ground and caught fire on impact at Elham, near Folkestone, Kent. Both crew killed:

Pilot Officer Frederick Priestman (aged 21) killed
L.A/C John William Pickering (aged 23) killed

Aircraft was engaged in a cross country formation flight from Netheravon to Hawkinge. According to a contemporary newspaper report ("Folkestone, Hythe, Sandgate & Cheriton Herald - Saturday 19 March 1927):

R.A.F. Pilot and Mechanic Killed.

A shocking air accident occurred at Elham, near Folkestone, just before noon yesterday (Friday) morning. A Hawker Horsley bombing machine, belonging to the 11th Bombing Squadron, Royal Air Force, stationed at Netheravon, Wilts., was proceeding from Netheravon to Hawkinge Aerodrome, near Folkestone, when the machine crashed in a meadow to the north of Elham Station and immediately burst into flames. When those who had rushed to the scene were able to approach the wreckage nearly an hour later the charred bodies of two men were extricated. They were: Pilot Officer Frederick Priestman, of the 11th Squadron, R.A.F.; and Leading Aircraftsman Pickering, of the 11th Squadron. The cause of the accident is not yet clear. People in the village, however, who saw the machine flying at a low altitude, state that the engine appeared to be running badly, whilst on the other hand it was suggested that owing to the bad visibility the pilot was attempting to land.

As the heavy plane struck the ground there was an explosion, and apparently the petrol tank burst. Within a few seconds of the crash the machine was a mass of flames, which at times reached forty to fifty feet high. Burning petrol also ran down the slope of the field for a distance of over fifty yards, scorching the grass. People rushed to the scene of the accident, but they were helpless, for the terrific heat made it impossible to approach the blazing wreckage. A message was sent at once to the 25th Squadron, R.A.F., at Hawkinge, and within a very short time the fire tender and ambulance from the aerodrome arrived on the scene. Men of the Squadron used their fire extinguishers on the blazing wreckage, and quelled the fire enough to enable efforts to be made to get at the occupants of the machine. A wire rope was procured, and this was placed over the engine, which lay buried three to four feet in the ground, and by attaching the rope to the fire tender the massive engine was moved a short distance.

The bodies of the two airmen who had been pinned down underneath were then got out. They were charred beyond all recognition. One man was decapitated, whilst the other was legless. The bodies were placed on stretchers near at hand and covered over with blankets. At first the identity of the machine was not known, but Air Force officers who had come from Hawkinge were of the opinion that the machine was a Service one. Pieces of wreckage were strewn in all directions, and amongst it were two partly burnt parachutes. The airmen had evidently had no time to jump clear.

Mr. P. D. Pitcher, an agricultural and electric engineer, of Elham, was the first on the scene. "I first saw the machine approaching from the direction of Folkestone," he told a "Herald" representative. "It was flying low, but nothing particular attracted my attention. The pilot circled over the field, and then, after narrowly missing two trees he turned to the left. He was then very low, and almost immediately after the machine nose dived. As soon as it struck the ground with a dull thud fire broke out and in less than no time the wreckage was a mass of flames. I ran across to the scene of the accident, but it was impossible to get near the blazing mass. I heard no groan; nor was there any sign of life, and the task of extricating them was made even more difficult because the engine was pinning them down."

Mr. T. Goatman, of Elham, told our representative that when the biplane flew over Elham he thought there was something wrong with the engine. "I formed the opinion," he said, "that the pilot was experiencing engine trouble. The machine then headed off in a south-easterly direction and ran into a bank of fog over the railway station. The next minute the machine had nose dived into the field. As it struck the ground there was an explosion. As the ’plane flew over Elham I estimate it was not more than 200 feet up."

Mr. Ben Wylie, of the Rose & Crown, Elham; "I was in my garden at the time," said Mr. Wylie, "when I saw the machine flying very low. As it flew over the village the engine did not seem to be going properly. The pilot just missed colliding with two trees adjoining the field in which the crash took place, and then he rose again. He seemed to be in trouble, and after side slipping a short distance the machine nose dived from a very low height into the ground. Just before the accident I saw sparks coming from the engine, but I do not think the machine was then on fire. As soon as the crash occurred people from the village rushed to the field. Everyone was anxious to do something, but we could not get near the wreckage for the fire. The flames at times were forty feet high, and, to make matters worse, blazing petrol ran down the field towards the railway."

The bodies were later in the afternoon removed to Hawkinge Aerodrome, where the East Kent Coroner (Mr. Rutley Mowll) will hold an inquest. A few weeks ago a pilot of a R.A.F. machine, stationed at Hawkinge, made a forced landing in the same field, not fifty yards from where yesterday’s accident took place."

In addition the accident was debated in Parliament. According to "Hansard", the official record of debates in the House of Commons:

HC Deb 06 April 1927 vol 204 cc2065-6 2065
Colonel DAY asked the Secretary of State for Air if he has received a Report of the coroner's statement at the inquest held at Hawkinge aerodrome on Pilot-officer Frederick Priestman and Leading-aircraftsman John W. Pickering, who were killed in an air crash at Elham; and whether, in view of these remarks, instructions will be issued that unimportant flights should be discontinued in the future when indications have been received that the destinations were not desirable places' to go to on account of fog?

The SECRETARY of STATE for AIR (Sir Samuel Hoare) I have seen the Press reports of the coroner's inquest, but the Reports of the official Court of Inquiry and of the Inspector of Accidents have not yet been received. I can make no statement in regard to the orders, if any, which it will be necessary to issue when the Report has been received and considered.

Colonel DAY Does the right hon. Gentleman consider it necessary to allow these men to take unnecessary risks in weather of this kind?

Sir S. HOARE I certainly do not wish anyone to take unnecessary risks, but I cannot express an opinion on this case until I have had the Report.

Mr. HARDIE Must any airman go up if he is ordered to do so by his superior officer?

Sir S. HOARE Yes, Sir, certainly, if it be a proper order.

Colonel DAY asked the Secretary of State for Air what percentage of accidents in the Royal Air Force since the war have been due to wing flutter or tail flutter in the aeroplanes involved; what types of post-war aircraft have possessed either of these defects; if it has been 2066 found necessary to restrict the manœuvres of any types of post-war machines; and whether such types were retained in use in the Royal Air Force although they were known to be prone to wing flutter or tail flutter?

Sir S. HOARE I am not prepared to give the information for which the hon. Member asks. The whole question of accidents in the Royal Air Force was dealt very fully by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in the House on 10th March, and he has since deprecated inquiries on points of detail of this character.

Colonel DAY Is it the fact that certain instructions have been issued that machines should not be flown at over 60 miles an hour, and are those instructions on account of the wing flutter?

Sir S. HOARE I am afraid the hon. Member is asking for just the information I cannot give him."


1. Royal Air Force J-J9999 (and WW1 Survivors) by Dennis Thompson (ir Britain, 1987, p 66)
2. Inquest in death of crew: Folkestone, Hythe, Sandgate & Cheriton Herald - Saturday 26 March 1927
7. The Brisbane Courier (Brisbane, Queensland) Monday 21 Mar 1927 Page 7:
8. Kingston Daily Gleaner (Kingston, Jamaica) Tuesday, March 22, 1927 Page 5:

Revision history:

13-Jun-2018 23:58 Dr. John Smith Added
18-Oct-2018 17:38 Nepa Updated [Operator, Destination airport, Operator]
17-Feb-2020 22:06 Dr. John Smith Updated [Destination airport, Source, Narrative]

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