1st November 1961
Car plane air crash caused airport fireball
It used to be possible to fly your car to and from Guernsey. Silver City Airways ran a regular car service, flying vehicles and their passengers between the island and Bournemouth via Cherbourg.
Disaster struck on Wednesday 1 November 1961 when one of its Bristol freighter aircraft came down in a field close to Guernsey Airport. The pilot and co-pilot were killed, the air hostess was thrown out of the back of the aircraft and the seven passengers in the rear compartment were lightly injured. The part of the plane they were sitting in had separated entirely from the rest of the fuselage, and they ended up in a different field, still strapped to their seats.
Witnesses described the plane pulling up steeply, banking, then coming down in the fog, throwing wreckage into the air. It then burst into flames. All three of the cars it was carrying were destroyed in the inferno.
When the inquiry into the crash published its conclusions in January 1963, it placed the blame on a failed propeller pitch unit. When the part was taken to pieces, investigators discovered that someone – who could not be identified – had done a poor repair job. Instead of using the spring it needed they had evidently taken a longer spring, cut it down and filed off one end. This bodged repair led directly to the loss of two lives, three cars and the aircraft itself.
The pilot had missed his landing so was trying to go around again but found himself unable to get sufficient height. The starboard engine was only turning very slowly and, because of the non-standard switch repair, the pilot was unable to correct it. This explains why witnesses saw the aircraft banking before its wing hit the ground.
Silver City Airways
Silver City has a somewhat notable history. It participated in the Berlin Airlift, helped carry Hindu and Muslim refugees between India and Pakistan, and established the world’s first air ferry service across the English Channel. It was ambitious, too: its inaugural service was no quick hop across the water, but London to Sydney via Johannesburg.
It was to become the UK’s largest air cargo firm, eventually carrying close to 100,000 cars across the Channel every year.
In 1962 it was taken over by British United Airways, which itself merged with Caledonian Airways in 1970 to form British Caledonian. This was acquired by British Airways in 1988.
The Bristol Superfreighter that crashed in Guernsey was first flown in 1953. It had been designed specifically for Silver City Airways in much the same way that Britten-Norman had designed the Trislander specifically to suit the needs of Aurigny.
It could carry three cars and 20 passengers or, when converted away from freight use, 60 passengers.
The twin-engined craft was 22m (73ft) long, with a 33m (108ft) wingspan. Its range was 820 miles (1320km), with a maximum speed of 225mph (362kmh).