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ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 220337
Last updated: 18 November 2021
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Date:24-JUN-1950
Time:12:15 LT
Type:Percival Proctor Mk III
Owner/operator:Frank Joseph Rand Elliot (regd. owner)
Registration: G-AJCU
MSN: H-264
Fatalities:Fatalities: 4 / Occupants: 4
Other fatalities:0
Aircraft damage: Written off (damaged beyond repair)
Location:Skirden Hall Farm, Tosside, near Clitheroe, Lancashire -   United Kingdom
Phase: Take off
Nature:Passenger - Non-Scheduled/charter/Air Taxi
Departure airport:Greatham Airfield, West Hartlepool, County Durham
Destination airport:Squires Gate, Blackpool, Lancashire (BLK/EGNH)
Narrative:
Percival Proctor Mk III G-AJCU. Ex-RAF HM351. First civil registered (C of R 11185/1; C of R 10347) on 20 September 1948 to John Thomas Jones, Oxford. Note that the Air Ministry aircraft card quotes the former RAF serial HM351 as the MSN in lieu of the official F Hills & Sons MSN H-264. Registration cancelled/lapsed upon sale 25 June 1949.

Sold on and re-registered (C of R 11185/2) 18 July 1949 to Frank Joseph Rand Elliot, Middlesborough

Crashed 24 June 1950 when force landed at Skirden Hall Farm, Tosside, near Clitheroe, Lancashire, when the pilot became lost while flying en-route from Hartlepool, County Durham, to Squires Gate, Blackpool, Lancashire. The most complete report on the incident found so far was in the "Craven Herald" on 10 July 2010.

"Air disaster that claimed four lives back in 1950

Four people lost their lives in Craven’s worst-ever air crash 60 years ago. Just over 60 years ago this week, Craven experienced its worst-ever air crash. A small, privately-hired aircraft, which had landed in Tosside because of mist, was attempting to take off again when it hit a dry stone wall.

In front of around 40 onlookers, the aircraft flipped over and exploded, killing its pilot – a war hero – and all three passengers. Retired bus driver, Edward Hornby, his second wife, Una, a fish frier, and friend, Phyllis Bell, who worked in a laundry, had chartered the plane to take them from West Hartlepool to Blackpool.

Several local farmers, who witnessed the accident and who spoke to the pilot after he had made his emergency landing, gave evidence at the inquest held just two weeks later. The inquest in Settle heard evidence to suggest that the plane may well have been overloaded and that the pilot had miscalculated the weight of his passengers.

But by the end of the two-day hearing, a death by misadventure verdict was recorded on all the unfortunate victims. The coroner commented on the system of weighing passengers and called for better record keeping. It appeared that the pilot had filled out a load sheet which he had then altered – the original had been destroyed in the crash, leaving only an illegible carbon-copy.

The small, privately-hired Procter Mark 3 aircraft had been on its way from West Hartlepool to Blackpool on Saturday June 24, 1950. Pilot of the aircraft was 35-year-old Douglas Barker Crabtree, of West Hartlepool, and it had been hired out by Phyllis Bell, 34, of Stockton-on-Tees, Edward Hornby, 73, and his wife, Una, 51, of Thornaby-on-Tees.

Mr Crabtree was an instructor and manager at Greatham Airport, West Hartlepool, and lived in the town with his wife and son. He had only just returned to West Hartlepool the day before following a family holiday.

During the war, Mr Crabtree, a Flight Lieutenant with the RAF, had been a fighter pilot and had taken part in the Battle of Britain. He had also served in Italy and had been mentioned in dispatches.

It was around 11.30am on June 24 when the aircraft was seen circling a meadow in Tosside. Owner of the field, farmer Christopher Sutcliffe, of Brockthorn Farm, saw the aircraft circle about three times before landing safely in his meadow.

He told the Craven Herald that within a very short time, up to 40 people had rushed to the field to see the plane – something of an unusual site in Craven at the time. The pilot told Mr Sutcliffe that he had been looking for Clitheroe, from where he planned to follow the River Ribble to Preston and then on to Blackpool.

Settle vet Thomas Roberts had also talked to the pilot and had been told that he had landed because he had lost his bearings. Mr Roberts added that Mr Crabtree had said he had not wanted to continue the trip. Another farmer, William Staveley, told the inquest that the pilot had told him that his wireless had been out of order.

After about an hour, the mist cleared and Mr Crabtree decided to resume the flight. “He examined the surface of the field and estimated the distance,” said Mr Sutcliffe. “Then he waved to the people in the field, revved up the engine and quickly taxied across the meadow.”

But then, disaster struck. “The plane rose but caught the top of the stone wall at the edge of the field,” said Mr Sutcliffe. “One wing was ripped off and the machine turned over and crashed into the next field, bursting into flames so fierce that we couldn’t get anywhere near it.”

Two days following the crash, an inquest was opened in Settle. It heard from farmer, Horace Herd, of Skirden Hall Farm, Tosside, who had seen the aircraft circling. He later saw the plane in Sutcliffe’s field and had spoken to the pilot. He also spoke to the passengers, who told him they were off to Blackpool for a holiday.

Mr Herd told the inquest he saw the plane move to take off, but heard a loud noise and returned to see the plane ablaze. He saw no one get out of the aircraft and later witnessed four bodies being removed. On the ground near to the wreckage he had seen a woman’s handbag and an attaché case.

Settle doctor David Hyslop, who examined the bodies, said he was satisfied that burning had been the cause of death. Among the items in the wreckage was a letter confirming rooms at Blackpool, keys, ration books and identity cards. The inquest heard from the pilot’s brother, Paul Barker, a musician from Sowerby Bridge. He said his brother had held a pilot’s licence since he was 20 years old and was very experienced.

He had last seen him five weeks previously and identified a driver’s licence found in the wreckage. The inquest also heard from Mr Hornby’s son, also called Edward. He also identified items from the wreckage as belonging to his father and step-mother. Items belonging to the fourth victim, Mrs Bell, were identified by her brother-in-law

On the second day of the inquest, evidence was heard from Ernest Goldsborough, an aero-engineer from West Hartlepool. He said the aircraft had been hired by a travel agency based in Stockton-on-Tees. He recalled the passengers turning up for the flight on the Saturday and saw them walk off to the plane with Mr Crabtree.

After that, he knew nothing as Mr Crabtree was not in communication with the airport. A week later, the inquest resumed for the last day – after being adjourned when questions were raised about whether the plane might have been overloaded.

Some confusion over the actual weight being carried by the aircraft was revealed, as was the effectiveness of scales at the airport used to weigh the passengers. Craven coroner Stephen Brown concluded that there was no evidence of neglect on anyone’s part.

He believed the pilot had been forced to land after losing his bearings and that he had no need for a wireless as he was not operating in a controlled flight zone. It appeared that the aircraft had not cleared the ground on re-take off until it had almost reached the wall. Some part of the craft had then hit the wall and it had somersaulted onto its back and burst into flames.

It was difficult to confirm one way or another the exact weight of the plane as only an unclear duplicate copy of the load sheet remained – the original, made out by the pilot, had been destroyed in the crash. But Mr Brown believed if there had been any discrepancy in weight, it would have been within the acceptable limits.

He did however express his dissatisfaction with procedures and pointed out that more care should be taken working out weights of passengers, equipment and luggage and that careful records should be kept".

Registration G-AJCU formally cancelled by the Secretary of State, Air Ministry as "Crashed 24.6.50"

Sources:

1. The Indian Express 25 June 1950, p5
2. Clitheroe Advertiser and Times, Friday 30 June 1950 pages 2-3
3. Craven Herald 10 July 2010: https://www.cravenherald.co.uk/news/8260030.air-disaster-that-claimed-four-lives-back-in-1950/
4. The Straits Times, 26 June 1950, Page 3: https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/straitstimes19500626-1.2.32
5. https://cwsprduksumbraco.blob.core.windows.net/g-info/HistoricalLedger/G-AJCU.pdf
6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tosside
7. https://getoutside.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/local/skirden-hall-plantation-ribble-valley


Revision history:

Date/timeContributorUpdates
30-Dec-2018 18:06 TB Added
26-Dec-2020 00:13 Dr. John Smith Updated [Time, Aircraft type, Operator, Location, Nature, Departure airport, Destination airport, Source, Narrative]
26-Dec-2020 00:16 Dr. John Smith Updated [Source]
26-Dec-2020 00:17 Dr. John Smith Updated [Registration]
26-Dec-2020 00:21 Dr. John Smith Updated [Source, Narrative]
26-Dec-2020 16:12 Dr. John Smith Updated [Phase, Narrative]
10-Jun-2021 23:47 Dr. John Smith Updated [Registration, Cn, Operator, Source, Narrative]
10-Jun-2021 23:47 Dr. John Smith Updated [Narrative]
11-Jun-2021 00:03 Dr. John Smith Updated [Operator]

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