de Havilland Vampire F. B. Mk.5 VV601 / “14” of B Flight, No.1 Squadron, No.7 Flying Training School, RAF crashed on an un-named ridge to the east of Llyn Eigiau on the eastern edge of the Carneddau on the 19th April 1956
|Robert Mark Armitage RNVR||Midshipman||Pilot||Killed|
The pilot, 19 year old Fleet Air Arm trainee Robert Armitage, was undergoing advanced flying training at No.7 FTS at RAF Valley, having previously trained on Provosts at No.1 FTS at Syerston. He had joined the Navy in the summer of 1955 and had joined No.7 FTS on the 12th Feberuary 1956. His total flying experience was 147 hours 15 minutes.
He had already made one flight on the 19th April in a Vampire T. Mk.11, this was a solo aerobatic flight. On landing the Flight Commander of B Flt, Flt Lt Arthur Thornton, asked Msm Armitage whether he would like to carry out an aerobatic flight in a Vampire F.B. Mk.5. He had carried out the flights both dual and solo in the T. Mk.11 and the next step was to do the same in the single seat variant. Robert Armitage said he would like to do that and was then briefed for the flight.
He was to take off and head to the southern end of Anglesey or towards Nefyn (depending on the proximity of other aircraft) before climbing up to 15,000ft where he would carry out two loops, two rolls of the top and two barrel rolls. They were all to be done at the same air speed and power setting he had used in the T.11 earlier in the morning. After completing these he was to carry out maximum rate turns and then climb to 20,000ft for a practice high level control descent back to Valley. Flt Lt Thornton said that he should be down by 12:40.
At 12:10 Armitage was authorised by ATC to taxi out and was cleared for take off 5 minutes later after which he took off. He made the usual VHF radio checks while heading out to the south. No further radio traffic was heard from Armitage. The normal procedure was for pilots to make contact every 20 minutes and at 12:35 when nothing was heard from him the officer in control of ATC began calling on the approach and local frequencies but there was no response. When nothing had been heard by 12:45 the military and civilian emergency services were alerted. to the fact that an aircraft was missing.
Around 12:30 a farmer, Mr Thomas Roberts, was driving a tractor along the track from Dolgarrog to Llyn Eigiau with his brother following close behind in a second tractor. He heard the aircraft approaching from the north west and looked up “and saw an aircraft diving low over the top of one hill and down behind another” he then “heard an explosion and saw a flash and black smoke”. They stopped and heading in the direction of the smoke, one reaching the scene of the crash all they found was smouldering wreckage and headed to the watchmans house at Llyn Eigiau to report what they had seen. The Police then alerted RAF Valley to what had been reported and the Mountain Rescue Team and a helicopter set out immediately. Most of the team were at the site by 13:30.
The aircraft had struck a rock outcrop carving a sizable crater, on impact the fuel had ignited under compression blasting some of the heavier parts up to 500 yards out to either side of the line of flight. In his statement Mr Roberts had said that in the brief view he had of the aircraft it “appeared to be diving with wings level and very fast and also appeared to be complete”, he was also “certain that the canopy was in position”. The RAF and Accident Investigation Branch both carried out investigations. They were able to state that the aircraft was descending at about 20 degrees with the flaps and air brakes retracted, also the canopy had not been jettisoned. The weather at the time was excellent with no cloud and only slight haze in places.
These inquiries could not determine the exact cause of the accident as almost all of the evidence had been completely destroyed in the crash.
During his inspection of the site the AIB inspector found a mild steel bar in the area about 150 yards from the point of impact where most of the cockpit wreckage was located. This was subsequently identified as being the handle from a fuel and hydraulic oil tank spanner of a type used on Vampires. This would not normally be carried on aircraft operating from Valley, though there was a storage position for one in the cockpit. If such a bar was to become loose in the cockpit it could easily jam the elevator controls, tests on another Vampire showed that on either side of the cockpit the bar would prevent more than 1.5 inches of rearward movement of the control column, while still giving full forward movement. In effect allowing an aircraft to enter a dive but not recover.
The two investigations attempted to trace its origin as did an RAF Police inquiry by their Criminal Investigation Section. None of them were able to locate its origin and came to slightly different conclusions about its possible origin. The Court of Inquiry and AIB thought it was probably introduced into the aircraft when it had major overhaul work at No.19 MU, RAF St Athan, in 1955 where as the RAF Police thought it had likely been in the aircraft when it arrived at St Athan from the 2nd Tactical Air Force in Germany in 1954. They all noted that it was not a standard design with a hollow tubular handle but a was locally repaired one with a solid round bar handle. The grade of metal was different to examples found at all the stations the aircraft had been through in the UK after its return from Germany.
The aircraft’s sister ship VV602 was also lost when it dived into the ground near Macclesfield 2 years earlier, with the tragic loss of its pilot.