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1952: Dozens die in air show tragedy

At least 27 people have been killed and 63 injured after a jet fighter disintegrated and fell into the crowd at the Farnborough Air Show in Hampshire.

The De Havilland 110 fighter had just broken the sound barrier when it broke up over the spectators, showering them with debris.

Among the dead are the pilot, John Derry, and the flight test observer Anthony Richards.

Mr Derry was the first British pilot to exceed the speed of sound in this country four years ago today - on 6 September 1948 in in a DH 108 research aircraft.


"Every possible step will be taken to trace the course of the accident"

De Havilland aircraft company

The two airmen had completed one fly-past in which they amazed 130, 000 spectators by breaking the sound barrier to produce a sonic boom.

But during the second low-level fly-past when the plane was travelling at about 500 miles an hour (804kph) over the aerodrome, its nose lifted and the whole plane disintegrated.

The two engines broke lose and one plunged into a dense crowd watching on a hillside. The other engine fell on open ground but other membrs of the public were injured by parts of the cockpit.

Fire engines and ambulances arrived within minutes and after a short break the air display continued.

Squadron Leader Neville Duke, a close friend of Mr Derry, even flew a Hawker Hunter jet up to a height of 40,000ft (12km) and demonstrated a double sonic boom.

The directors of the De Havilland aircraft company expressed their "profound sorrow" at the tragedy. In a statement they said: "Every possible step will, of couse, be taken to trace the course of the accident."

In Context
The following day, the Queen, Queen Mary, and the Minister of Supply, Duncan Edwin Sandys, sent messages of sympathy.

The final death toll was 31 including the pilot.

The disaster prompted the introduction of stringent safety measures to protect spectators at air shows and no member of the public has been killed since at a British air show.

Aerobatics displays are kept within a well-defined "box", to ensure an aircraft flying towards the crowd would still fall well short of the public in case of engine failure.

Jets must stay at least 754 feet (230 metres) from the crowd if flying straight and 1,476 feet (450m) when doing manouevres and at least 492 feet (150m) above the ground.

The worst air show accident to date happened in the Ukraine on 27 July 2002 when 83 people were killed following the crash of an Su-27 at Sknyliv air base near Lviv.


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