de Havilland Canada L-20A Beaver 52-6145 of the 81st Fighter Bomber Wing, USAF, crashed on Bramah Edge on the 5th December 1956
|John Rossman Tinklepaugh||1st Lieutenant||Pilot||Killed|
|Guy Waller||1st Lieutenant||Passenger||Killed|
The 81st Fighter Bomber Wing of the USAF was a strike unit primarily based in Suffolk and operating the Republic F-84 Thunderstreak, however within their collection of Squadrons there was a small Liasion unit which operated the de Havilland Canada L-20 Beaver from the Wing’s then secondary airfield at Shepards Grove near Bury St Edmunds.
On the 5th December 1956 one of the pilots who flew the L20 was tasked to fly a pilot from the 91st Fighter Bomber Squadron, stationed at RAF Bentwaters on the Suffolk coast, to RAF Burtonwood near to Warrington where one of the Squadron’s F-84s had been undergoing maintenance to allow that fighter to be flown back to Bentwaters.
Despite both aircraft and officers being based at air stations in Suffolk the final flight for this aircraft began in Norfolk at RAF Sculthorpe near Fakenham. Sculthorpe had been the home base for the 49th Air Division to which the 81st FBW was attached in the nuclear strike role although the Division was inactivated in July 1956 but was a major hub for the USAF in Europe. Judging by the last recorded flight made by 1st Lt Tinklepaugh he had flown to Sculthorpe the previous day as he is shown in the accident report to have flown an L-20 for 1hr20m on the 4th December.
The aircraft took off from Sculthorpe at 10:47 to begin its flight to Burtonwood and was routed via radio beacons at Marham, Sturgate (near Gainsborough) and Oldham. At 11:37 the pilot reported passing the Sturgate beacon to a USAF controller at RAF Molesworth. Twenty minutes later at 11:56 first contact was made with Burtonwood with the pilot reporting that they were still to the east of Oldham. Using the time taken to cover the first 70 miles to Sturgate the aircraft should have been roughly half way along the next leg to Oldham, probably to the north of Sheffield. Shortly afterwards 1st Lt Tinklepaugh attempted to make contact with the Manchester Airport controller but was unable to do so, and as a consequence any instructions from Manchester were relayed by the Burtonwood controller. The aircraft was cleared towards Oldham at 4,500ft with the pilot being instructed to make further contact on passing the beacon.
After this initial contact there was no further communication with the aircraft until 12:13 when the pilot said they were over the Oldham beacon, he was cleared to descend to 3,500ft and given the 12:00 weather information for Burtonwood and told to contact the Ground Approach Controller (GCA) on the appropriate frequency. Contact was established with the GCA controller at 12:15 with the pilot reporting inbound to the Burtonwood beacon at 3,500ft and just past the Oldham beacon. Just after this the GCA controller saw a radar contact 14 miles ENE of Burtonwood which was heading towards the airfield, as a method of identification he instructed Tinklepaugh to change course to a heading of 225, when the contact did not make the course change the controller instructed Tinklepaugh to continue towards Burtonwood maintaining 3,500ft and to turn on to a course of 040 on reaching the Burtonwood beacon if radar identification had not been made by then. A further radar contact 11 miles ESE of the airfield was seen and to check if this was the Beaver Tinklepaugh was again requested to alter course to 310 but again the contact continued seen did not make the requested change in course and so Tinklepaugh was instructed to continue towards the beacon with the previous instructions, as part of this Tinklepaugh reported that the aircraft would appear on a course of approximately 255. For a further few minutes GCA kept tabs on what course the aircraft was flying in the hope of seeing the aircraft on radar. At 12:28 the pilot reported the aircraft passing the Burtonwood beacon with GCA instructing the pilot to turn right on to 040. Two minutes later at 12:30 the GCA controller saw a radar contact on a course of 040 heading away from the Burtonwood, the controller then instructed the pilot to turn right again on to 090 and descend to 2,500ft, the radar contact then altered course to 090 which satisfied the controller that this return was the Beaver. After being satisfied that the Beaver was close to the airfield the controller passed a new altitude of 1,500 and to report passing through 2,000ft. Shortly after the pilot reported passing through 2,800ft, having remained above the previously cleared altitude of 2,500ft. When the radar contact was 6 miles ENE of Burtonwood the controller instructed a change of course to 225 and continue descending to 1,500 to bring the aircraft back towards the airfield. It was when the radar contact did not alter course Tinklepaugh was queried as to the aircraft’s heading to which he replied he was flying on 225. Realising the identification error the controller cancelled the clearance to 1,500ft and instructed the pilot re-home on the beacon at 2,000ft with the frequency of the beacon being passed as well with the pilot being asked to report what heading to onboard indicator was giving to the beacon. It was shortly after this at 12:35 that the last radio transmission from the aircraft was heard with only “What” being decernable, the mis-identified radar contact faded out about 10 miles East of Burtonwood.
After the loss of contact the GCA controller asked the Burtonwood tower to attempt to make contact and use their Radio Direction Finding set to attempt to establish a bearing to the aircraft but no contact was made, the GCA controller also contact the Manchester controller to see if the aircraft had contacted them but the answer was no. Was it was apparent that contact had been lost Burtonwood tower was informed along with Manchester and GCA transmitted on the distress frequencies in the hope of regaining contact.
It was between 12:35 and 12:37 that the aircraft flew into Bramah Edge, at about 1,300ft amsl, above Torside Reservoir on the south side of the Longdendale valley. Shortly before the aircraft had been seen from the ground flying in a south-westerly direction just into the cloud base. The sound of the impact was heard from the railway crossing at Torside with the signaller there reporting the crash. Police and Fire Service personnel soon arrived at the scene to discover that the forward end of the aircraft had been consumed by a post crash fire and both men onboard had been killed. The crash site is some 26 Nautical Miles in a straight line from Burtonwood.
To this day this accident remains on of very few where misidentification of a radar return has resulted in an aircraft flying into the ground while under the instruction of a ground controller. However the height of the ground at the crash site and cleared altitude for the aircraft differ by 700 feet.