ON THIS DAY    21 September      Graphics version >>   BBC News >>
Search ON THIS DAY by date   
  Go back one day Go forward one day

Front Page |  Years |  Themes |  Witness
1979: Harrier crash kills three

An RAF plane has crashed onto houses in a Cambridgeshire town, killing two men and a young boy.

Both the pilots ejected safely when the two Harrier jump jets collided at about 8,000 ft (2,438 m).

One of the planes broke up in midair and fell harmlessly into a field but the other dropped onto the centre of Wisbech, destroying two houses and a bungalow.

Several people were injured in the accident - including a mother and her baby who were in one of the semi-detached houses hit by the jet.

The planes - which were both from the nearby air force base at Wittering - ran into each other at 0955 BST during a training exercise.

The Harrier that hit the town left a crater 15ft (4.6 m) wide and 50 ft (15.2 m) deep on Ramnoth Road, and only narrowly missed two schools and the town's college of further education in adjoining streets.

Local Liberal MP Clement Freud said it was a "miracle" the planes had not caused more death and damage.


"There was a great shudder - then there was silence"

Witness Jessie Rose

The dead have been named as Bob Bowers, his two-year-old son Jonathan Bowers and Bill Trumpess - a former mayor of the town.

Susan King, the head of the local primary school only 300 yards (274 m) away, said the plane had skimmed the roof of a building before exploding in a cloud of smoke that rose 100 ft (30.5 m) in the air.

Jessie Rose was hanging out her washing in a neighbouring garden when the accident happened.

"There was a great shudder - then there was silence. I heard a woman's voice saying over and over again, 'My baby's dead, my baby's dead'," she said.

A spokesman for the RAF said a board of inquiry had been set up to investigate the third Harrier jump jet crash this year.

In Context
An inquiry found the collision happened when the two Harriers were engaged in a mock dogfight.

One of the planes reversed its jets to try and force the pursuing Harrier to overtake him.

But this put the two aircraft on a collision course and before either pilot could take avoiding action they clipped wings.

One of the pilots tried to control his plane, but in doing so caused it to plummet towards Wisbech.

As a result of the crash, the RAF raised its minimum training height from 5,000 ft (1,524 m) to 8,000 ft (2,438 m).

Memories of 'a dreadful day'
I was a newly qualified solicitor working in Wisbech at the time of the accident. My office was in the top of our office building and frequently RAF aircraft went by on their way to exercises over the Wash.

I remember the jet in question screetching across the sky with a noise like a dying animal.

The aircraft shot over the office roof only a few feet or so above me and crashed a second or two later making a noise like the slamming of an enormous castle gate.

Three people were killed but many more could have been.The pilot stayed with the aircraft until the last second and landed close by. A dreadful day.
Andrew Hodder, UK


Search ON THIS DAY by date   
  Go back one day Go forward one day

Front Page |  Years |  Themes |  Witness
^^ Back to top |