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Narrative:Delivered 15/9/37 From 54 Squadron, RAF. On 17/1/38 Collided with Gloster Gladiator K7940 and crashed at Ridgewood, near Uckfield, Sussex. Pilot, Sgt Geoffrey Gaskell KIFA (Killed In Flying Accident). According to a contemporary newspaper report into the death of the pilot of Gladiator K8014 ("Sussex Agricultural Express" - Friday 21 January 1938):
|Date:||Monday 17 January 1938|
|Type:||Gloster Gladiator Mk I|
|Owner/operator:||65 Sqn RAF|
|Fatalities:||Fatalities: 1 / Occupants: 1|
|Aircraft damage:|| Written off (damaged beyond repair)|
|Location:||Ridgewood, near Uckfield, Sussex, England -
|Phase:|| En route|
|Departure airport:||RAF Hornchurch, Essex|
|Confidence Rating:|| Information is only available from news, social media or unofficial sources|
PILOT KILLED WHEN AIRPLANES COLLIDE.
Air Fatality at Uckfield.
One pilot was killed when two R.A.F. airplanes collided in midair over Uckfield on Monday morning. The other pilot safely made a parachute descent. The machines crashed to earth a mile and a half apart, one falling into a barn. On some allotments between the machines was found the dead body of a pilot, his parachute unopened, and with part of his airplane round his neck.
The fatality occurred at Ridgewood, a portion of Uckfield just outside the main part of the town. Three machines of the 65th Fighting Squadron, R.A.F., stationed at Hornchurch, were being flown solo over the town at a considerable height. Two were seen to collide and fall, one tailless, while a parachutist drifted away with the third machine circling round him. Another object was seen to drop and searchers found the dead body of Sergeant Geoffrey Edwin Gaskell, aged 24, one the pilots, in the Ridgewood Allotments at New-road, just over the boundary hedge of the Recreation Ground. What appeared to be the cockpit of the machine was round his neck.
Pilot Officer Robert Rowland Stanford Tuck, who descended by parachute, landed in a field at Croxted Farm, near Iron Pear Tree Corner, about 1½ miles away, and escaped with bruises and shock. He was taken in the ambulance to the Cottage Hospital.
One machine, with the tail of the other embedded in its nose, crashed in a marsh on Captain G. V. Baxendale's estate at the north end of New-road, and was completely smashed, while the other fell into the barn at Messrs. Pipers Nurseries, which is quite close to the house, and is situated on the Lewes-road. Fortunately, neither machine caught fire. One had so buried itself in the ground that all that could be seen appeared be a quantity of scrap metal. Mr. T. Piper was working in a nearby glasshouse when he heard the crash. The Uckfield Fire Brigade were called, but their services were not required. So many people saw the accident that many were soon on the scene, and the police quickly took charge of affairs, while much useful work was done by the A.A in controlling traffic.
Air Force officers took charge of matters on Monday afternoon, and men were on duty all night, while the wreckage was being removed on Tuesday.
The inquest on the dead pilot was held at the Uckfield Institution on Tuesday, the Coroner for East Sussex (Dr. E.F. Hoare) sitting with a jury, of which Mr. B. Colbourne was chosen foreman. The jury first viewed the apparatus involved
Evidence of identification was given by Flight-Lieut. Leslie Charles Bucknell, stationed at Hornchurch, Essex, who stated that deceased was a sergeant-pilot, 24 years of age. His total service was from 1930, but he had probably been flying only about a year. On Monday he had full charge of the particular machine he was flying. As far as witness knew he had never used a parachute, and it was not the practice to make drops of that nature. Witness was flight commander of the planes involved. They were acting under his instructions and were carrying out normal formation training. They left Hornchurch about 9.25 a.m. on Monday and were due back in about an hour.
Dr. William Duncan Bell, of Uckfield, said he saw the body. Part of the plane was attached to deceased. His parachute had not opened and apparently no attempt had been made to open it. On later examination he found deceased had a fracture of the base of the skull and many other injuries. He died as the result of the fractured skull, and, in witness's opinion, this fracture occurred in the air and not when he hit the ground.
P.C. John Osborne, of Uckfield. stated that at 10 am. he was on duty in Uckfield police station when through the window he saw three airplanes flying in a southerly direction in single line formation. They were about 4,000 feet up. He heard the sudden roar of an engine and saw the rear plane swerve to its left and then swerve to its right, dive under the other two machines, right itself, and then catch up with them again. It looked as if it might have hit the second plane. About five minutes afterwards witness saw what he took were the same three airplanes returning in a northerly direction. They were a little lower down, but flying in the same formation. The rear plane, which was the third, struck the tail of the second one and tore it off. The machine then first got into a spin, seemed to flatten out and fly normally for while, but then nose-dived to the ground. He saw the second airplane fall straight down like a log, and the body of one pilot fall straight to the ground. At the same time he saw a parachute open to his left. The first machine was clear. Witness went to the scene and found a machine, with part of the other one, completely smashed, the tail of one machine being on the front of the other. Later he found the body of the pilot in the allotments. The man with the parachute landed at Halland, while the engine and the remainder of the second machine went through Mr. Piper's barn.
Eye-witness accounts were also given by P.C. Martin, of Uckfield, P.S. Hibbs, and Mr. George Ogden, of The Lodge, Ridgewood House.
Robert Rowland Stanford Tuck, who appeared with a strip of plaster on his face, and wearing a blood-stained collar, said he was a pilot-officer of the R.A.F. 65th Fighter Squadron, stationed at Hornchurch. Single-seater machines were being used on Monday, and witness was flying the third machine which was the rear one. Witness drew a sketch to describe the situation of the airplanes, and said they were not in line, neither were they in V formation. What actually happened was that Gaskell went up a matter of six feet, which brought him into the slip-stream of the leading machine - this was the turbid air one got coming back from the propellor along the fusilage (sic) of the airplane, and one could not fly in it because it tended to twist one round all the time. Gaskell stopped there a matter of five seconds, being rather unsteady while in the stream, and then evidently decided to break away from the formation. In breaking away, he turned to his right and slightly upward, and in doing that left witness no alternative, for he could not also go to the right.
"What I tried to do was to put the control column forward and go below him," said witness, "but unfortunately he was too close, and I could not make it. I think I hit him somewhere behind his cockpit. As soon as that happened, the control of my machine went, and it was severely vibrated owing to my propellor having been knocked off. So I endeavoured to get out by parachute, and did so. I saw my machine land alongside a wood as I was going down. I saw nothing of the other machine after I had hit it, and did not know I had the tail on the front of my engine."
PLENTY OF ROOM
In reply to the foreman, the witness said Sergeant Gaskell was a new formation pilot and was a little uncertain in his position. The closest planes could fly with safety, if experienced pilots were flying, was with the propeller within ten yards of the rudder. This was so in this particular formation. Gaskell had plenty of room to get out any way he wanted to. He actually knew that witness was on his right side, for just before witness was flying almost alongside and had signalled "thumbs up" that he had the right position. There was nothing to prevent him going out the other way, down or up. Witness was talking to him on the 'phone a matter of three minutes before the accident. Deceased's equipment was all right as he called witness up and also acknowledged some of his signals by nodding his head. They were about 6,000 feet up.
The Coroner - You attribute the accident to an error of judgment on the part of deceased in going up those six feet?
Witness agreed, adding that had he not done so the accident would not have happened. What he could not understand was why deceased did not go straight up to get out of the slip-stream, which would be more or less the natural thing to do. There were no air pockets, although it was windy, but it was quite smooth where they were.
In summing up, the Coroner said it would appear immaterial whether the parachute opened or not; the poor man already being hopelessly injured.
After a short retirement, the jury returned a verdict of "Accidental death," exonerating the other pilot from all blame"
01/04/38: Wreckage struck off charge at RAF Kenley, Surrey (26.45 hours on airframe)
1. The K File The RAF of the 1930s (James J Halley, Air Britain)
2. Daily Mirror - Tuesday 18 January 1938
3. Folha da Noite 17 January 1938, p.38
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