Search billions of records on Ancestry.com
   

COMET AIRLINER CRASHES IN MEDITERRANEAN

________________________

10  CHILDREN  AMONG  35  ON  BOARD

FEARED  LOST

 A B.O.A.C. Comet jet airliner flying from Singapore to London crashed in the Mediterranean yesterday morning, about 20 minutes after leaving Rome on the last stage of it flight.
 On board were 29 passengers and a crew of six. Last night 15 bodies had been recovered from the sea. Among the passengers was Mr Chester Wilmot, the former war correspondent. Ten children are reported to have been on board.

RECOVERY OF 15  BODIES
___________
EFFORTS BY ITALIAN  FISHERMAN
From Our Own Correspondent
                                     ROME, JAN 10
   A British  Overseas Airways Corporation Comer airline, travelling on the rout from Singapore to London with 29 passengers and a crew of six, crashed in the Mediterranean between the islands of Elba and Monte Cristo this morning.
   The aircraft, registered as G-ALYP, was commanded by Captain A Gibson, and among the passengers was Mr Chester Wilmot, the well known war correspondent and military commentator.
   The last report from the aircraft was at 10.50 local time (09.50  G.M.T.) over Orbetello, when the aircraft was on its normal course and reported nothing out of the ordinary.  It had left Rome for London Airport some 20 minutes earlier.
   When anxiety was mounting, a report was received from a fisherman that an aircraft had crashed into the sea south of Elba, after what appeared to be an explosion in the air.
POWERFUL WINDS
   Although fishermen reported the disaster as having taken place at 11.15, it is believed here that it  must have taken place about eight minutes after the aircraft’s last report.  At that time the comet would normally have been at a height of 25,000ft to 30,000ft.  The weather in the vicinity was not regarded as in any way extraordinary, although there must have been fairly powerful winds at that height.
   B.O.A.C. officials here state that there was no evidence of turbulence in the area of the crash, such as that associated with the Comet airliner which crashed near Calcutta last May.
   The fishermen who saw the occurrence reported to the carabinieri at Porto Ferrajo, whence the report was relayed to Pisa.  Italian search aircraft were airborne by 12.30 from La Spezia and Pisa. Three Italians ships were reported tonight to be in the area of the crash, where wreckage with B.O.A.C. markings has been found.
   The only passenger to board the aircraft in Rome was a Captain Livingstone of British  European Airways.  Several B.O.A.C. staff were among the passengers in the aircraft including Captain V Wolfson, R.N.V.R., who was General manager of B.O.A.C.’s subsidiary airlines. His daughter Miss Wolfson, was due to pass through Rome tonight in another aircraft.
   Ministry of Civil Aviation  experts from London are expected here early tomorrow to assist in the official Italian Inquiry.
PORTO AZZURO,  ELBA, Jan. 10 - The bodies of 15 victims of the Comet disaster were brought here tonight by local fishermen.  A priest came to the quayside and imparted a benediction as the bodies, laid on planks, were transferred ashore and taken to the cemetery chapel, where a temporary mortuary had been arranged.  Flowers had been laid in the building by village children, and candles were lit.
FISHERMAN’S  ACCOUNT
   Giovanni di Marco, the fisherman who first reported the crash to the island authorities said: “I was fishing just south of the island when I heard the whine of the plane above me. It was above the clouds . I could not see it. Then I heard three explosions, very quickly, one after the other. For a moment all was quiet. Then, several miles away, I saw a silver thing flash out of the clouds. Smoke came from it. It hit the sea. There was a great cloud of water. By the time I got there all was still again. There were some bodies in the water.  We began to pick them up. There was nothing else we could do.
   Police here said none of the bodies so far had yet been identified.  The fishing boats also brought in some wreckage, including a mail bag, some coats and handbag and two life jackets.  Italian warships, using searchlights, patrolled the area of the crash tonight. At dawn they will be joined again by fishing  craft. High winds are making the sea choppy to-night. - Reuter.
   ROME, Jan 10.- No survivors had been found  tonight, 10 hours after the crash.
The Comet crashed without, apparently, having sent out any distress signals, diving into the sea belching black smoke. The aircraft had flown via Rangoon, Calcutta, Karachi, and Beirut on an extra-scheduled flight.
  A passenger list, issued tonight, showed that 10 children were among the 29 passengers. Most were assumed to be flying to school in Britain after having visited parents in the East during the Christmas holidays.
   Mr Victor Pahlen, an American film producer cancelled his seat on the lost Comet at the last moment, because he had heard it had been delayed on its way to Rome. When told of the disaster tonight he declared: “It is incredible. I had everything packed. It was just at the last moment I decided not to take the plane.”
UNOFFICIAL  LIST
   The following is an unofficial passenger list:-
From Rangoon for London: Chester Wilmot.
From Bahrain for London: JM Bunyan (male), JM Bunyan (female), Bunyan (infant), L Yateen (female), R Keedoori (female), N Keedoori (female).
  The names of three other men and a child booked from Bahrain to London were not available.
From Beirut for London: RK Gerald (female),  G Gerald (Child),  M Gerald (child), ES MacLachlan (female), JV Ramsden (male),  D Leaver (male), A Grisa (male)
From Singapore for London: JP Hill (male), Steel (no initials, male)
From Bangkok for London: FJ Greenhouse (male), R Sawyer-Snelling (Male), Wolfson (no initials, male)
From Karachi for London: D Baker (female), HE Schuhmann (male),  T Moore (male),  E Fairbrother (female).
  Airline officials in Rome describe the additional passenger as “extra crew”, but have not yet given his name. - Reuter.
   THE  COMET  FLEET’S  RECORD
_______
12M.  MILES  IN  AIRLINE  SERVICE
             By Our Aeronautical Correspondent
   The British Overseas Airways Corporation have been using Comets since May 2, 1952, and have so far operated them for approximately 25,000 flying hours. This is the third of the corporation’s original fleet of nine to be lost.
The first accident, in which there were no casualties, occurred on October 26, 1952, while the airliner was taking off from Ciampino airport, Rome, and was attributed in the official report to “an error of judgement by the captain in not appreciating the excessive nose-up attitude of the aircraft during the take off.”  There was a similar verdict regarding the Canadian Pacific Airlines Comet, the Empress of Hawaii, which crashed while taking off at night from Karachi airport on March 3 last, while on a delivery flight from the United Kingdom to Sydney.  All the 11 people on board  were killed.
   As reported in The Times on December 9 last Comet II and III airliners are to have redesigned wing leading edge to improve their slow-flying  characteristics and their take-off and landing qualities. Tests of the modified wing made by  de Havilland test pilot have shown that even when the airliner’s tail skid is in contact with the runway  during a take-off run, it is impossible to get the wing into a stalled position.
INDIAN INQUIRY
   On the first anniversary of the jet airliner’s introduction on the corporation’s services - May 2, 1943 - all 43 occupants of a Comet airliner were killed when, in what the Indian court of inquiry described in its report as an “unusually severe” storm, the aircraft crashed a few minutes after taking of from Dum Dum airfield, Calcutta. The court’s findings, published on June 15 last, were that the airliner encountered a squall with a thunderstorm when climbing to its cruising altitude and suffered structural failure in the air which caused fire.  The report said that an examination of the wreckage did not reveal any sign of sabotage, lightning damage, faulty workmanship, defective material, or a power plant failure.
   In the opinion of the court, the structural failure was caused by over-stressing which resulted from either severe gust encountered in the squall, or over-controlling , or loss of control by the pilot when flying through the thunderstorm. The court made two recommendations: (I) That the wreckage be transported to Britain and a detailed  technical examination be undertaken with a view to determining  the primary failure and to consider if any modification in the Comet’s structure was necessary: (ii) that consideration be given to  the desirability of modifying the aircraft’s flying control system “in order to give the pilot a positive ‘feel’ of air loads exerted on the control surfaces.”
DETAILED EXAMINATION
   In a joint statement issued when the report was published B.O.A.C. and the de Havilland Aircraft Company said that it was not possible until the detailed examination  of the aircraft wreckage, then under way, had been completed at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough (Hampshire), to determine the sequence of structural failure. The very considerable flying experience, including many flights in turbulent conditions, over the past three years by B.O.A.C. and de Havillands with Comet aircraft did not suggest that over-control or loss of control by the pilot was likely. An official of de Havillands said last night that he understood the detailed examination and analysis of the wreckage had not yet been completed.
   Twenty-one Comet 1 and  1A airliners have been built.  After the Canadian Pacific Airlines accident  B.O.A.C. bought the remaining one of the two ordered by this company, so that they now have seven. G-ALYP, which was lost in yesterday’s accident , was the airliner that inaugurated B.O.A.C.’s opening service - to Johannesburg - in May, 1952.  It had flown a total of about 3,500 hours.  Other Comets have been sold to the French U.A.T. Company (3), Air France (3), and the Royal Canadian Air Force (2).  Of the two Ministry of Supply prototypes, one is still being used by the de Havilland Aircraft Company at Hatfield (Hertfordshire), for experimental work; the other has been broken up for routine structural tests at the Royal Aircraft Establishment.
   B.O.A.C  are using Comets on routes from the United Kingdom to Johannesburg, Tokyo, Singapore, and Colombo.  An official told your  Correspondent last night that the corporation have no intention of grounding these airliners.
   To date, more than 30,000  hours’ flying has been accumulated with       Comets, including more than 12 million miles in airline service. They  are now flying about 180,000 miles a week.
   The Comet, the world’s first airliner, can carry 36 passengers. It is powered by de Havilland  Ghost turbo-jets. A more powerful type, with Rolls-Royce Avon jet engines is now in production.  B.O.A.C. have ordered  12. One is to used later this year  for upper air exploration over the north Atlantic, in preparation for opening the first transatlantic service with jet airliners with the still more advanced Comet III.  B.O.A.C.  have placed an order for five Comet III airliners and have taken an option on five more.
________
AIRPORT CONFERENCE
   One of the passengers was a foreman from a Sarawak oilfield  who was being flown to England for urgent medical treatment. His home is in Redcar, Yorkshire.
   Among  the experts  who will investigate the crash  are two officials of  the Ministry of Civil  Aviation , Mr Dettmold, of the de Havilland company  and a  B.O.A.C. official, Mr Hornblow. A conference of B.O.A.C.  technical experts, with Sir Miles Thomas, chairman of the Corporation present, was held at London Airport last night.
   In addition to Captain Gibson, the members of the crew are stated to be:- First Officer WJ Bury, of Gosport, Hants; Engineer Officer FC MacDonald of Yately, Hants; Steward FL Saunders of Dover, Kent;  Radio Officer L McMahon of Omagh, Northern Ireland; Stewardess Jean Clark of Huntingdon.
   Captain Gibson, D.F.C. is 31.  His home is at Highcliffe, Hampshire.  He has flown 1,300 hours with the R.A.F. and 4,267 with B.O.A.C.
    Mr AT Lennox-Boyd Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation, has sent a message of sympathy to the chairman of B.O.A.C. , asking him to convey his sympathy to the relatives of those who have lost their lives.
 

From  THE TIMES  Monday January 11th  1954
 

Back to Comet Page