English Electric Canberra B. Mk.2 WH669 of No.10 Squadron RAF, crashed near Dilhorne in Staffordshire on the 27th March 1953


Patrick Esmond Reeve Flying Officer Pilot Killed
John Golden Woods Pilot Officer Navigator / Plotter Killed
Vivian Owen Pilot Officer Navigator / (Set Operator) Killed


The crew were carrying out Local Continuation Training from RAF Scampton near Lincoln, this included approach training from high level. The approach training was a mixture of B.A.B.S (Beam Approach Beacon System) and QGH (Controlled Descent Through Cloud).

The pilot carried out one QGH approach from 20,000 feet, climbed to 30,000 feet to carry out a B.A.B.S. approach which he carried out successfully passing over the airfield at 700 feet before climbing away in a WSW direction to begin another B.A.B.S. approach from 30,000 feet.

Some 11 minutes later the aircraft crashed at an almost vertical angle near Dilhorne, the aircraft had gone beyond vertical and was slightly inverted at the moment of impact. The time that had elapsed meant that the aircraft would have reached 30,000 feet with up to two minutes left for the aircraft to dive to ground level.

The RAF Court of Inquiry could not give a definitive cause for the accident given the level of destruction of mechanical components they were unable to rule out a mechanical defect in the flying controls but neither were they able to rule out human error due to the fact that all three of the crew perished in the accident.

The crew had attempted to abandon the aircraft, the pilot’s canopy was jettisoned and landed nearly a mile from the crash site. The Court of Inquiry suggested that while the pilot had succeeded in jettisoning the canopy, the high airflow (400 to 500 knots) over the cockpit would have meant that the pilot would have unable to operate his ejection seat. One of the navigators was on a spare seat when the aircraft took off so he could operate the Gee navigation equipment, he would first have to move to his ejection seat before the crew could have abandoned the aircraft. The Court recommended that the Gee equipment be moved so the operator could occupy an ejection seat throughout the flight and that the sequence of escape would be rear crew first followed by the pilot ejecting through the canopy.

Crash site of English Electric Canberra WH669 at Dilhorne, Staffordshire
Very little is left of the aircraft on the surface and much of the buried wreckage was recovered at the time with the aid of a dragline excavator.