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Vickers Valiant crash

A personal story from a RAF bomber that crashed in poor weather

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Bill Yates' recollections of this fateful day

Crashed aircraft Following on from the WZ397 Valiant picture sent in by Bill Yates, here is his account describing the final minutes of Valiant WZ399 on which he was aboard, and which acted as camera ship in the previous photograph:

"Back to the distant past, it was Friday 3rd November 1961 that we were planning a return back to our base RAF Wyton. We had been at US Air base Offutt for 5 days carrying out radar training along the US and Canadian Border, the weather factor had not been good due to several deep depressions over the central and northern parts of the USA. We had strong winds and very low temperatures.

The previous day Thursday 2nd November our sortie was cancelled due to bad weather, so the aircraft was put to bed on the disused runway. During the night another weather pattern went through the area with below zero temperatures.

I was our habit to always to get airborne on time to the exact minute, so after Met Briefing I completed my route plan back to Newfoundland on the homeward bound leg, and the Flight Plan was filed with Air Traffic Control with our take off time as 0800 local time.

From there we took the flight ops coach to the aircraft, it had been prepared by the ground crew, the only think the Captain or the Co pilot had to do was make a visual check to the outside of the aircraft. We all climbed aboard, closed the cabin door, and all went though our checks then moved on to the runway for take off.

During the night the temperature had dropped, and despite this we didn't know what was to follow. The pilots did the final pre-take off checks, on to max power, brakes off, the runway was long about 10,000 ft, checks were made to all ASI's (air speed indicators) and the take off speed was in the region of 170 Knots.

By the time max power was reached, one air speed indicator was fluctuating and it may have even stopped. We had reached our time to lift off, but then the other pilots ASI went the same way as the other. You must realise the Captain had to make AN INSTANT DECISION - Abandon Take Off or continue with the Take Off. He decided to shut down all Four Engines and apply Max Braking.....travelling at over 200 miles per hour and this aircraft with max fuel on board.

Next all the main tyres burst, we were still at a possible take off speed when we reached the end of the runway, and what did the Men up front see beyond the runway? to their horror they saw that "THE GROUND FELL AWAY, A POSSIBLE 30 DEGREE DOWNWARD SLOPE, AND AT THE BOTTOM A SIX LANE HIGHWAY".

The aircraft did get airborne, then hit the ground. All the equipment in front of me was on fire, we cleared the highway still airborne and the next impact was on a minor railway line which finally caused the aircraft to break up and burn out completely.

At the enquiry the Pilots were found responsible. One small thing triggered the accident - unknown to the crew, the Pitot Head covers used overnight (low freezing temperatures remember) were of the wrong type, which allowed water to get into the ASI system.

It was later discovered that ice was seen in the pitot head, and the ground crew whilst having power to the aircraft during their checks melted the ice, then it drained down into the air speed mechanism. Whilst we were taking off with the minus temperature, it re-froze which caused the ASI to fluctuate and then failed with catastrophic results.

Unfortunately even after hospitalisation, treatment and rehabilitation over three years it resulted in losing my flying status, and 12 years later my flying was terminated with the loss of my flying pay and I eventually retired aged 51 & then took up a satisflying job in Air Traffic Control, and, with the combination of Flying and Air Traffic, joined Civil Aviation instructing airlines in navigation and aircraft performance. You should be able to deduce my experience of looking at death in that my time was not up. "

Thanks for sending that in Bill, and posting the above photo showing the wreck of Vickers Valiant WZ399. An amazing (true) story.

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