§ 101. Mr. de Freitas
asked the Secretary of State for Air whether he will now make a further statement on the crash on 5th March of the Royal Air Force, Beverley, at Abingdon.
I have now studied the report of the Board of Inquiry into this accident.
The Inquiry has confirmed that the flight was correctly authorised, the crew was properly qualified, the passengers were fully briefed and the pilot was justified in taking off in the weather conditions prevailing.137W
The aircraft took off normally on instruments. While the aircraft was climbing, what appeared to be a serious leak of fuel behind No. 1 (port) engine was observed. The captain informed Abingdon Control that he was returning to base and requested a blind approach let down. He reported that he was feathering No. 1 engine to reduce the danger of fire from an apparent fuel leak. The Air Traffic Controller gave the aircraft the let down procedure and alerted the airfield crash crew.
At an early stage in the let down procedure the gauge for No. 2 (port) fuel tank showed an unusual loss of fuel and the fuel cocks and boosters for this tank were therefore turned off leaving the No. 1 tank cocks and boosters on.
As the aircraft turned to begin the return approach the captain ordered full power from the three active engines. No. 2 engine failed to respond. The aircraft began to lose height and speed. The captain tried to land the aircraft in an open space since it then appeared clear that it could not reach the airfield.
The aircraft became uncontrollable. It veered to port, struck some power lines about 30 ft. above the ground and subsequently some trees, severing the port outer main plane. The aircraft disintegrated and caught fire on hitting the ground, some 18 minutes after take-off.
Fifteen occupants of the aircraft and two civilians were killed. The three survivors from the aircraft and one civilian were seriously injured and another civilian sustained minor injuries.
The four fuel tanks on the port side of the Beverley feed into a collector box from which the two port engines are fed. From the available evidence, including inspections of part of the aircraft's fuel system which was found in the wreckage, it is clear that a non-return valve between No. 1 (port) tank and the collector box had been fitted in reverse and that the fuel supply from Nos. 3 and 4 (port) tanks were switched off throughout the flight.
The accident was due to loss of power on Nos. 1 and 2 engines on the port side which resulted in the aircraft being unable to maintain height. This loss of power resulted from No. 1 engine having been feathered as a precautionary measure 138W when what appeared to be a fuel leak was observed and from the cutting of No. 2 engine from fuel starvation. Fuel starvation of No. 2 engine was caused by the incorrect fitting of the non-return valve in the supply line from No. 1 port tank; to the fact that the fuel supply from the other main tank had been shut off after No. 1 engine was feathered; and finally because the fuel supply from the two smaller port tanks was turned off throughout the flight.
Charges have been preferred under the Air Force Act against the airmen believed to be responsible for the incorrect fitting of the non-return valve. The captain of the aircraft must bear some responsibility for the accident in that contrary to the operating instructions for the handling of the aircraft's fuel system the supply of fuel from the two smaller tanks on the port side was turned off throughout the flight although some fuel was available in these tanks. Owing to the nature of the flight the amount of fuel in the two smaller tanks was not large, and it can only be assumed that the captain had no reason to believe that both port engines would not operate satisfactorily off the two main port tanks individually. The captain lost his life in the accident.
No evidence was found of any malfunctioning or failure in the aircraft itself, nor do the circumstances of the accident bring into question the use of R.A.F. Abingdon as a Transport Command airfield.
The Board of Inquiry drew particular attention to the valuable and courageous help, during the period of fire after the aircraft crashed, which was rendered by Mrs. Smith of Abingdon Road, Drayton, Wing Commander the Reverend S. W. Harrison and Flying Officer Evans of Royal Air Force, Abingdon and also to the efficient rescue organisation of the Berkshire Constabulary under the control of Superintendent A. Walker. On behalf of the Air Council I should like to pay tribute to the valuable services they rendered.