Abingdonís Terrible Air Crash (6th July 1965)

RAF Hastings TG577

This Year's memorial service at St Lawrence, Toot Baldons was on Sunday 6th July 2014


JULY 2015 will be the 50th Anniversary of this disaster. It is to be assumed that there will be special events of this curiously overlooked accident.

David Rayner
Updated 07Jul14

As webmaster for the society's website www.aaahs.org.uk I received an email requesting information about the above disaster. I garnered the information you will find below, but do not claim to have professionally researched it please refer to original sources for more accuracy in particular the newspaper sources which were handwritten notes because Abingdon Library printer wasn't working. That said I have received several emails from survivors and relatives of the deceased who said they were pleased to find information about the accident; in particular from the son of Sgt P. M. Way who was at that time not yet born (see below). These relatives also supplied additional information.

RAF Handley Page Hastings aircraft.
The accident happened 1600 hrs on the Tuesday 6 July 1965, 41 men sadly lost their lives when the aircraft came down at Little Balden (sic) near Abingdon.  The aircraft was based near Bath at RAF Colerne.

Notes from North Berks Herald

Notes taken rapidly at Abingdon Library by David Rayner

Thursday 8th July 1965 Issue

Photo of helicopter over crash site

41 Killed in crash

A board of inquiry opened yesterday at Abingdon RAF Station

To establish the cause of the crash on Tuesday Afternoon of the Hastings Aircraft of Transport Command which crashed onto a Barley Field at Little Baldon Oxon (near Abingdon)

Pilot Flight Lieutenant J Akin of Oxford

24 RAF personnel
11 Army
8 locals (mostly instructors)

Many saw plane in difficulty.

Crashed on 100acres Field of Mr Jack Barclay.

Plane originally planning to make a parachute drop over Weston on the Green.

Pilot radioed "In some sort of trouble"

First Ambulance arrived from Didcot "North Berks Ambulance Control" the plane was an inferno.

No survivors. All night guard. Sightseers block the roads.

Instructors F.L W.P.Roden,Sgt J Hurry, Sgt P.M.Way PTI (Wantage)
Sgt J.I.Borthwick (Abingdon) SGt P Clifton (Abingdon) Sgt J.J McGartland (Radley)
Other local man Cpl A.N. Telfer

Picture of men combing ripe Barley Fields for debris

Eye Witness Reports

"Pilot saved the village (witness from Berinsfield)"

Woman thought plane was doing stunts

Farm Worker who arrived at scene: Looked like some soldiers had tried to jump; deployed parachutes.

Services Arrived quickly.

"Upside down when crashed/hit ground"

"Two other planes in vicinity circled the scene" said man who saw accident from a passing train.

Several Housewives from Marylands Green, Chislehampton (400 yds from crash) said plane passed very low overhead.

Section with a paragraph on each local victim.

Abingdon Herald 15th July 1965

Page 1
Metal fatigue of Elevator bolts

Picture of procession

Some shops closed
Service at St Helen's Church
Local victims buried in RAF Section of Spring Rd Cemetery
St Helens Catholic School Girls Attend
Monday Morning Service 12th July

nothing more until Aug 12th


Inquest in Abingdon Guildhall

Verdict Accidental Death.
Doctor; All victims dead of multiple injuries. Plane had been recently overhauled.

Plane Climbed steeply. Two initial bolts failed from metal fatigue "caused pilot difficulties", pilot tries to return to Abingdon, flies over Chislehampton, two more bolts fail due to increased stress. Plane Climbed steeply, stalled and crashed. (Paraphrased by me David Rayner).

Also in paper Film at Abingdon Regal "How the West was Won (John Wayne)", route of M4 being discussed.

Location of Crash

"Jack Barclay's 100 acre Barley Field"
Barclay Farms
Little Baldon Farm
Little Baldon
OX44 9PU

Note from a website

The Handley Page Hastings was by far and large a very robust and successful aircraft giving 30 years of service in the RAF/RNZAF. The serviceability of the aircraft was generally good and often a flight engineer would not have too many 'snags' to report to a 'grease monkey' upon an after flight inspection.

However one cause for concern over the lifetime of the Hastings was in the tailplane section where the elevator hinge section was attached to the tailplane, in fact for the majority of the Hastings built it was the 'end of the line' for the Hastybird when TG577 took off with a total of 41 crew and parachutists on board on 06/07/1965. Within minutes of being airborne TG577 plummeted to earth with sadly the loss of all on board. A couple of days later all Hastings were temporarily grounded pending a Court of Inquiry report, this resulted in the failure of the hinge bolt bracket that connected the elevator to the tailplane being fatigued. Subsequent checks found at least 3 other bracket failures and modifications were put into place immediately and within 2 years most of the Hastings were replaced by Lockheed Hercules transport aircraft. The TG577 Hastybird had seen service in Cyprus and saw action in the Suez Canal Conflict

Annual Memorial

Church service held on the first week in July at The church of St Lawrence, Toot Baldon . There is also a plaque in the church with all of the names of the victims.

Some Relatives after 2008 Memorial service

Edmund Way, Simon Telfer, Elaine Toner and sister nieces of J. W. Robinson
On the 6th of July 2008 I attended the annual memorial service in the pouring rain at St Lawrence Little Baldon. This remote little church is in a most beautiful location looking over the plain where TG577 met its fate, indeed a pathway and ancient Roman Road leads down to the 100 acre barley field. To my surprise the church was packed with young and old, wives, sons and daughters, grand-children, representatives of the RAF, perhaps a parent or two. The service was moving, afterwards there was tea in the village manor.

By Edmund Way (son Sgt P.M. Way)

There is an annual church service held on the first week in July at The church of St Lawrence, Toot Baldon . There is also a plaque in the church with all of the names . Its funny meeting all of these old chaps who have connections .  There was also one lucky chap who did not make the flight that day.  I have newspapers of the day and other pieces like the telegram that was sent out. I have met a fire man who was there and he went all queasy as I had the same papers as he did!  If you ever get the chance the PTS HQ now at RAF Brize Norton , have a small museum there and have the book of condolences etc.

The crash happened 6 weeks before I was born so i only have limited information from people.  The church service is held in July and there must be 60+ people there. I am now in the Royal Air Force and am currently serving on the Aircraft recovery and Transportation Flight (crash and smash).  Edmund Way

Spring Rd Cemetary

The local victims are buried in RAF Section of Spring Rd Cemetery; you may care to visit them especially on the 6th of July.

Extra Information 15Jun05

For Below Please reference:- http://splashdown2.tripod.com/id11.html At this point in time (1965) this was the worst peacetime accident involving any passenger aircraft of the Royal Air Force.

Received from David Barrott on July 3rd 2004:

Reference the crash of TG577. As I recollect, (being in close contact with several RAF and Parachute Regiment personnel at the time) .

Shortly after takeoff the pilot requested a priority landing at RAF Abingdon as he was experiencing some stiffness in the elevator controls. He was asked if he was declaring an emergency and requesting emergency clearance but declined.

Shortly after the aircraft assumed a nose down attitude. The pilot corrected this, but the elevators went hard up and locked there. The aircraft went to near vertical before stalling and dropping to land inverted. The altitude at the commencement of the manoeuvre was approximately 5000'.

The First vehicles on site were the ambulance and fire tender from UKAEA Culham Laboratory, who's drivers were subsequently reprimanded for leaving their base without permission although their CO was in Reading at the time. They had reached the crash site cross-country by breaching the fence of the Culham Naval Stores depot and a bill for replacement of the fence was received within a month.

Added on 4th November 2004 by Ch/Tech Ray Bunce ex RAF Benson via Doug Adams

One specific that I have been provided with some additional comments for are your article about the Hastings TG577 tragedy in July 1965. Most of the comments serve to complement or supplement the fuller details already printed. My cousin is Ray Bunce who, as Chief Technician R.A. Bunce, was NCO in charge of the RAF Benson Duty Crew on that fateful evening, and took the call to attend the scene.

The crew travelled to the crash site, a barley field it is reported, travelling in the standard 3 ton Bedfords provided. The crew arrived after about an hour, presumably after the chaps from Culham mentioned in your main article. The severity of the crash was already known or generally anticipated as they travelled expecting only to assist in the recovery of bodies. On arrival at the scene the only recognisable piece of aircraft was the (upside down) tail unit. Already at the scene, presumably called from his local base or home, was the Inspector from the CAA who straightforwardly advised that he had no doubt of the cause, fatigue in the elevator attachment bolts and was looking for these bolts to satisfy himself this was the case. On finding the two broken parts of one of these bolts, he reassembled it for the crew to look at, to show how difficult this fatigue was to detect visually. (My own comment but, given all that had been said and documented about these bolts failing in other situations, why had an effective correction not been made before more crashes and fatalities?) For Above Please reference:- http://splashdown2.tripod.com/id11.html

Iain Garrett Witness

Hastings TG 577
Tuesday 6th July 1965 at about 16:00hrs

My memory of this accident is still vivid after all these years. We were watching a race meeting on an old VHF TV. This was in the ground wireless workshop, to the right of the Tower (RAF Abingdon) . At about 16:00 hrs on that Tuesday the Tower VHF broke through onto the TV. It went something like this, (we have an aircraft with trim trouble). Two of us went outside and could see the hastings trying to make a circuit, a Beverly had already gone to the end of the runway, suddenly the aircraft went into a near vertical climb, our comments were, you canít do that with a Hastings! It stalled and made perhaps two or three 360 degree spirals and disappeared behind a copse of trees. After what seemed an eternity there was a colossal fireball. Among the lost souls was our friend Tony. Some hours later I was involved in setting up a radio link from the crash site to RAF Abingdon.Had I done my water jump I would probably have been with Tony. At this time I was in married quarters where many of the instructors also lived. This was a very very sad time.

593 SAC Garrett.(Iain)

Malcolm Kendall Toronto Canada

I was on duty as second lead officer at Culham that day and our local 999 control board was lit up like a Christmas tree from all the people that had seen the accident happen from their offices at Culham Labs. The whole crew voted in favor of leaving the station as we knew we were the closest help available. I know that none of us regretted that decision. One of the good things that came out of our decision to leave the site was that shortly afterwards an agreement with local authorities was set up that allowed us and any other UKAEA site to use its equipment locally for emergencies until such time as local crews could take over. Whether this is still the case who knows. Apart from fighting the fire we had to keep onlookers away from the site as there was a small Group of houses nearby and people were dragging there kids over to see what had happened. They were told in know uncertain terms to return to their homes. I am sure that none of the crew will ever forget that fateful day and how helpless we felt as it was plain that there were no survivors. I was please to read about the memorial service that is held each year. God bless them all Malcolm 11Mar 2011

List of Victims

Flt Lt John Akin
Plt Off Thomas Adams
Cpl Dennis J. Baylis
Sgt Graham G. Blake
Cpl James I. Borthwick
Flt Sgt Michael C D. Boyles
Plt Off Alan F. Canham
Flt Sgt Austin R. Casey
A/Sgt Peter Clifton
A/Sgt Anthony Evans
Sgt Colin D. Holmes
Sgt John Hurry
LAC Michael R. Ireland
Cpl Anthony C. Lee
Plt Off Royston J. Legg
Sgt John J. McGartland
A/Sgt Michael C. Palmer
Flt Lt Christopher J. Payne
M/AQM Joseph W. Robinson
Flt Lt William P. Roden
Flt Lt Herbert R. Scott
Cpl John R. Smith
Flt Lt David G. Stephens
SAC Anthony J. Sykes
Flt Lt George J. Taylor
Cpl Alexander M. Telfer
M/AQM Peter S J. Timms
Plt Off Alan W H. Turner
Sgt Philip M. Way
Jnr Tech Peter G. Williams
Name Age Regiment
C/Sgt T P. Alderson Aged 40 10 Para TA
Pte R M. Andrews Aged 18 Para Depot
Pte A A. Blackman Aged 17 Para Depot
Pte C. Bassom Aged 18 Para Depot
Pte T R. Brett Aged 23 Para Depot
Gnr T. Cooper Aged 17 7 Para RHA
Sgt H. Ellis Aged 33 17 Para TA
C/Sgt B J. Hougham Aged 36 10 Para TA
Pte W G. Hilditch Aged 21 Para Depot
Pte D J. Stewart Aged 18 Para Depot
Pte M D. Walker Aged 17 Para Depot

Witness Report : Les Lawson, On the Previous flight

I suppose you could say that I and my colleagues were intimately connected with the events of that terrible day. At the time I was just turned 20 years old and was a Sgt. Air Signaller and a Hastings crew member on no. 36 Sqn. RAF Colerne. The crew of which I was a member was captained by Fg. Off. Jeff Wiles aged 23/24. At 0925gmt on the morning of July 5th. 1965 our crew departed Colerne for RAF Abingdon flying TG577, the flight took 20 minutes. My memory is, although I'm not entirely certain of the agenda, that we were to pick up and drop paratroops a number of times that day, spend the night and do more of the same on the Tuesday before returning to Colerne. We took off with our first contingent of para. at 1120gmt. and dropped them at Weston on the Green, the flight lasted 40 minutes. We then shut the aircraft down and went to our messes for lunch. On meeting up again Jeff told us that he'd been in contact with base and that we would not be staying the night but would load up with our next allocation of para., drop them and return to Colerne. We were to hand the aircraft over to another crew who would immediately fly back to Abingdon to complete the next day's programme. We took off at 1630gmt., deployed the troops and flew to Colerne, landing at 1755gmt. The relief crew was waiting for us on the apron and they took the aircraft from us in an 'engine running handover' and departed for a 20 minute trip to Abingdon where they retired to their messes for the night. The rest of the story is the very tragic events of the next day.

Checking my log book I notice that we'd flown TG577 the month before. On the 9th. June we left Colerne for Abingdon to pick up passengers/freight and took these to RAF Wildenrath in Germany. We spent the night there and returned on the 10th. but first completing a low-level cross country exercise over Germany.

I've no objection to my story being included. With regard to the vulnerability of the aircraft, I think we all knew that it had problems, not least was the difference of 22 knots between unstick and safety speed and the, by most standards, very low cross wind limit of 19kts. and that for a master green. I also remember the embarrassment of being towed out (backwards, of course) to the runway when the surface wind was greater than 25kts. because even two pilots on the rudder couldn't cope ! We frequently flew through some very sporting snow/thunder/lightning storms over the French Central Massif usually on our way to or from Malta. I remember the drumming on the side of the aircraft as deicing fluid eventually penetrated the ice on the props which broke loose and slammed into the side, but that's just great fun when you're 20. I had quite a genteel time on Hastings I only remember one engine failure (shortly after take-off from Luqa, Malta) and maybe another precautionary feathering and after 1200 hours on type I was posted to Coastal Command in mid 1967 and converted onto Shackletons joining 42 sqn. at St. Mawgan.

I don't think that, until the accident, anyone knew about the elevator hinges being vulnerable. All Hastings were grounded subsequently, I didn't fly again until 19th. September. I remember that the first aircraft to be checked, repaired where necessary and certified OK was flight-tested by, I believe, Sqn. Ldr. Austin and, rather scarily for the crew, all four engine fire warning lights came on shortly after take-off ! I heard that the circuit and landing was the quickest ever made for such a large aeroplane !

Abingdonís Other Crash (at Sutton Wick/Drayton)

Abingdon's Other accident which unfortunately also killed two people on the ground. Unlike the TG577 there were 4 survivors.

March 05, 1957
Time: 11:00
Location: Drayton, England
Airline / Op: Military - Royal British Air Force
AC Type: Blackburn Beverley C Mark 1
Aboard: 22 (passengers:17 crew:5)
Fatalities: 18 (passengers:15 crew:3)
Ground: 2
Summary: The aircraft crashed into trees and farm buildings about a half-an-hour after taking off from Abingdon airfield. Fuel starvation due to an valve being installed backwards.

Three of the crew are buried in St Edmunds Abingdon Church Yard.

Including Flight Sergeant Jindrich Zarecky who been in the 2nd World War with the No 312 Czechoslovak Squadron