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ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 68622
Last updated: 15 November 2021
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Type:Hawker Demon Mk I
Owner/operator:25 Squadron Royal Air Force (25 Sqn RAF)
Registration: K3983
Fatalities:Fatalities: 1 / Occupants: 2
Other fatalities:0
Aircraft damage: Written off (damaged beyond repair)
Location:Tilmanstone Colliery, East Langdon, near Dover, Kent -   United Kingdom
Phase: En route
Departure airport:RAF Hawkinge, Folkestone, Kent
Destination airport:
Hawker Demon I K3983, 25 Squadron, RAF Hawkinge, Folkestone, Kent: Written off (destroyed) 5/11/37 when crashed after midair collision with Demon K4538, Tilmanstone Colliery, East Langdon, near Dover, Kent. According to the official Air Ministry announcement in "Flight" magazine (November 11, 1937 page 473 - see link #6)

THE Air Ministry regrets to announce that A/C.1 James Dale lost his life as the result of a collision in the air which occurred near Dover on November 5, between two aircraft of No. 25 (Fighter) Squadron, Hawkinge, Kent. A/C.1 Dale was a passenger of one aircraft, the pilot of which, P/O John Geoffrey Cave, descended by parachute and was not injured. The occupants of the second aircraft were uninjured".

One of the two crew was killed:

AC.1 James Dale (aged 19) killed
Pilot Officer John Geoffrey Cave (pilot) baled out

AC.1 James Dale was found unconscious in gunner's cockpit. He was conveyed to the Royal Victoria Hospital, Dover, but died from severe injuries at 21:30 hours the same night. Sgt Philip Richard Smith unhurt in Demon K4538. According to a contemporary newspaper report ("Dover Express" Friday 12 November 1937):


An aeroplane crash following a collision in mid-air over East Langdon occurred on Friday last week, resulting in the death of a young R.A.F. aircraftman stationed at Hawkinge who disobeyed orders by taking off his parachute while in the air. He was removed to the Royal Victoria Hospital, Dover and died on Friday night from the injuries received. The inquest was held at the Dover Town Hall on Tuesday morning.

The deceased was James Dale, aged 19. The inquest was conducted by the Borough Coroner (Mr. E. T. Lambert), and the jury comprised Messrs. T. A. Parkes (foreman), F. C. Chandler, P. Goodiff C. Gosnold, H. L. Langham, and C. G. Chidwick.

Capt. Richard Le G. Worsley, M.O. at the RAF Station, Hawkinge, stated that deceased was aged 19. As far as witness knew deceased was physically fit but had an accident to his right wrist, fracturing two little bones, in August. For a month he was away on leave and he was still wearing plaster for support. The injury would have caused him no trouble in operating his parachute. Dr Simon Marinker, senior house surgeon, Royal Victoria Hospital, Dover, gave evidence that deceased was admitted on November 5th, suffering from severe head injuries.

There was definite evidence of a fracture of the skull and he was quite unconscious and remained so until he died the same evening as result of the injuries.

Sergeant Philip Richard Smith, R.A.F., stationed at Hawkinge, said that on Friday, between 10 and 11 a.m., he was piloting a plane over East Langdon. They were flying in "echelon port" formation with two planes following the leader and each slightly to the left of the one ahead. Witness was in the second plane, and they were just going into that formation from another formation, "line astern." with each plane immediately behind the other. As they were doing so witness felt an impact and knew it was the third plane, because at the time he was watching the first plane.

His machine became out of control and went into a spin. While spinning he turned to see if his passenger was all right and as he did so he saw the other plane also spinning down. Witness made a safe forced landing in a field.

Questioned by the foreman, witness said he could not see the plane behind. The minimum distance apart was half a wing span. The wing span in this case was about 33 feet. The normal distance between planes was about 15 feet. Replying to the Coroner, witness said that conditions were good for flying at the time. Pilot Officer Bedford Russell, stationed at Hawkinge, stated that he was in charge of the flight and leading the formation at the time of the accident.

He gave orders in the normal way for change of formation. Sergeant Smith came up into position and there was no sign of No. 3 for about 15 seconds until witness saw him coming up directly underneath Sergeant Smith. Witness warned him by radio telephony to look out but it was too late and the next moment they collided. The rudder of No 3 machine struck the lower main plane of No 2 and went through that and continued upwards until it struck the upper main plane.

By that time the rudder and fin had disintegrated and the only thing left reasonably intact at the rear was the port tail plane. Both machines went up nose first, stalled, and spun to the left. After that witness gave the international distress sign "Mayday," and instructed the pilots what to do, to switch off the petrol and jump. Unfortunately, the aerial of No. Plane had been taken off in the impact.

At 1000 feet Pilot Officer Cave got out and a few moments later Sergeant Smith got his machine out of the spin and started to force land. Witness got as close as possible to the other plane and followed it down, waiting for the air-gunner, deceased, to get out. But he did not do so. Dale was standing up very rigidly in the rear cockpit and must have struck his head on the steel gun ring at the moment of impact. Had he got down in the cockpit he might have been all right for the cockpit was undamaged.

Deceased joined the forces on September 8th, 1936. He was an Aircraftman 1st class and was working as a fitter. He had been up half dozen times and probably more. He was very keen. He was very young and anything like that would be very terrifying but witness did not think he would be likely to lose his head. Orders had been issued that everyone should wear a parachute, except in bombers, but because the parachute was heavy men sometimes got down in the cockpit, ripped it off and sat on it, and it was impossible for the leader to see whether or not the man had his parachute on. The orders came out only a short time ago, owing to the number of deaths. It transpired afterwards that deceased's parachute was hanging up in the cockpit. It was disobedience to orders. Pilots were instructed to see that passengers had their parachutes on when taking off. The spin of the plane would not have prevented deceased moving about in the cockpit. Witness added that the machines were new types to the pilots concerned and had a bad blind spot in the centre section, which made it very easy to lose sight of another machine.

Pilot Officer John Geoffrey Cave, Hawkinge, said that he was piloting No. 3 plane, with deceased as his passenger. When they received orders to change formation he found he was dropping further and further behind and had not sufficient speed to catch up, so he put the nose down into a shallow dive which would bring him up even with the formation, and below it, but with enough speed to regain the lost height. It was necessary, however, to rise steeply to reduce to a minimum the time while the other machines were out of sight. As he began to climb he saw Sgt. Smith's machine and seemed to have sufficient distance between them. He lost sight of the machine, as he expected to do, and just as witness expected him to appear below the top main plane the collision took place. The shock was so great that it pulled him up on to the top of a loop from which position he stalled and started to spin. His immediate thoughts were to recover from the spin, but he found the controls were useless. He undid his straps and turned round to the air-gunner and told him, by signs, to jump, but it was to no avail because he did not have his parachute on. Deceased braced himself with both hands on the gun ring with a terrified stare on his face and never moved. There was plenty of time for deceased to have put on his parachute and witness waited for him until they got down to a thousand feet and witness then went over. That was the lowest distance from which one could jump with safety. Witness landed safely two or three hundred yards from where the machine crashed. Witness went to the machine. Deceased had just been taken out and his parachute was on the floor.

Replying to a juryman, witness said they did not leave an aeroplane except in cases of emergency. They were taught what to do in an accident, but they (illegible), it was easy to break an ankle or leg in landing with a parachute.

Sidney Edward Sutton, farm bailiff, of East Langdon, said that on Friday he was painting Guilford Cottages when he heard the plane go by his head, as he thought. He looked round and saw it crash about 100 yards away. Witness ran to the aeroplane and found deceased doubled up in the bottom of the cockpit.

The Coroner said that, apparently, had deceased obeyed orders, he would have got away all right. But it was, or had been, by no means uncommon, for the sake of creature comfort, for a man to shed his parachute equipment, as soon as he could safely do so without being observed. That was what deceased did so that when the time came for him to need the parachute it was not immediately available and he evidently lost his head. If deceased had only acted at once there was plenty of time for him to have put his parachute on and got safely away. He evidently lost his nerve The jury returned verdict of death by misadventure and expressed sympathy with the relatives."


1. Air-Britain The K File The RAF of the 1930s
2. Dover Express, Friday 12 November 1937

Revision history:

07-Oct-2009 20:57 JINX Added
24-Jan-2012 13:34 Nepa Updated [Operator, Source, Narrative]
14-Jul-2013 02:56 JINX Updated [Operator, Source, Narrative]
27-Nov-2014 19:43 wilbur Updated [Operator, Location, Narrative]
02-Jun-2015 07:18 Lorenzo Lamas Updated [Time, Departure airport, Source, Narrative]
02-Jun-2015 07:27 Wilbur Updated [Narrative]
07-Mar-2018 22:10 Dr. John Smith Updated [Location, Departure airport, Source, Narrative]
14-Apr-2018 17:50 Dr. John Smith Updated [Operator, Source]
14-Apr-2018 18:03 Dr. John Smith Updated [Narrative]
08-Oct-2018 17:51 Nepa Updated [Operator, Operator]

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