COMET AIRLINER CRASHES IN MEDITERRANEAN
10 CHILDREN AMONG 35 ON BOARD
A B.O.A.C. Comet jet airliner flying from Singapore to
crashed in the Mediterranean yesterday morning, about 20 minutes after
leaving Rome on the last stage of it flight.
RECOVERY OF 15 BODIES
EFFORTS BY ITALIAN FISHERMAN
From Our Own Correspondent
ROME, JAN 10
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.
A British Overseas Airways Corporation Comer
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
A Gibson, and among the passengers was Mr Chester Wilmot, the well
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
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,
what appeared to be an explosion in the air.
Although fishermen reported the disaster as having taken
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
The weather in the vicinity was not regarded as in any way
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
Comet airliner which crashed near Calcutta last May.
The fishermen who saw the occurrence reported to the
at Porto Ferrajo, whence the report was relayed to Pisa. Italian
search aircraft were airborne by 12.30 from La Spezia and Pisa. Three
ships were reported tonight to be in the area of the crash, where
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
staff were among the passengers in the aircraft including Captain V
R.N.V.R., who was General manager of B.O.A.C.’s subsidiary airlines.
daughter Miss Wolfson, was due to pass through Rome tonight in another
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
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.
Giovanni di Marco, the fisherman who first reported the
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
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
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,
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
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
via Rangoon, Calcutta, Karachi, and Beirut on an extra-scheduled
A passenger list, issued tonight, showed that 10 children were
among the 29 passengers. Most were assumed to be flying to school in
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.”
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
M Gerald (child), ES MacLachlan (female), JV Ramsden (male), D
(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
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.
12M. MILES IN AIRLINE
By Our Aeronautical Correspondent
The British Overseas Airways Corporation have been using
since May 2, 1952, and have so far operated them for approximately
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
Rome, and was attributed in the official report to “an error of
by the captain in not appreciating the excessive nose-up attitude of
aircraft during the take off.” There was a similar verdict
the Canadian Pacific Airlines Comet, the Empress of Hawaii, which
while taking off at night from Karachi airport on March 3 last, while
a delivery flight from the United Kingdom to Sydney. All the 11
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
Tests of the modified wing made by de Havilland test pilot have
that even when the airliner’s tail skid is in contact with the
during a take-off run, it is impossible to get the wing into a stalled
On the first anniversary of the jet airliner’s
on the corporation’s services - May 2, 1943 - all 43 occupants of a
airliner were killed when, in what the Indian court of inquiry
in its report as an “unusually severe” storm, the aircraft crashed a
minutes after taking of from Dum Dum airfield, Calcutta. The court’s
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
lightning damage, faulty workmanship, defective material, or a power
In the opinion of the court, the structural failure was
caused by over-stressing which resulted from either severe gust
in the squall, or over-controlling , or loss of control by the pilot
flying through the thunderstorm. The court made two recommendations:
That the wreckage be transported to Britain and a detailed
examination be undertaken with a view to determining the primary
failure and to consider if any modification in the Comet’s structure
necessary: (ii) that consideration be given to the desirability
modifying the aircraft’s flying control system “in order to give the
a positive ‘feel’ of air loads exerted on the control surfaces.”
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
until the detailed examination of the aircraft wreckage, then
way, had been completed at the Royal Aircraft Establishment,
(Hampshire), to determine the sequence of structural failure. The very
considerable flying experience, including many flights in turbulent
over the past three years by B.O.A.C. and de Havillands with Comet
did not suggest that over-control or loss of control by the pilot was
An official of de Havillands said last night that he understood the
examination and analysis of the wreckage had not yet been completed.
Twenty-one Comet 1 and 1A airliners have been
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
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
have been sold to the French U.A.T. Company (3), Air France (3), and
Royal Canadian Air Force (2). Of the two Ministry of Supply
one is still being used by the de Havilland Aircraft Company at
(Hertfordshire), for experimental work; the other has been broken up
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
told your Correspondent last night that the corporation have no
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
about 180,000 miles a week.
The Comet, the world’s first airliner, can carry 36
It is powered by de Havilland Ghost turbo-jets. A more powerful
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
exploration over the north Atlantic, in preparation for opening the
transatlantic service with jet airliners with the still more advanced
III. B.O.A.C. have placed an order for five Comet III
and have taken an option on five more.
One of the passengers was a foreman
a Sarawak oilfield who was being flown to England for urgent
treatment. His home is in Redcar, Yorkshire.
Among the experts who will investigate the
crash are two officials of the Ministry of Civil
, Mr Dettmold, of the de Havilland company and a B.O.A.C.
Mr Hornblow. A conference of B.O.A.C. technical experts, with Sir
Miles Thomas, chairman of the Corporation present, was held at London
In addition to Captain Gibson, the members of the crew
are stated to be:- First Officer WJ Bury, of Gosport, Hants; Engineer
FC MacDonald of Yately, Hants; Steward FL Saunders of Dover,
Radio Officer L McMahon of Omagh, Northern Ireland; Stewardess Jean
Captain Gibson, D.F.C. is 31. His home is at
Hampshire. He has flown 1,300 hours with the R.A.F. and 4,267
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
From THE TIMES Monday January 11th 1954
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