1st November 1961

Car plane air crash caused airport fireball

It used to be possible to fly your car to and from Guernsey. Silver City Airways ran a regular car service, flying vehicles and their passengers between the island and Bournemouth via Cherbourg.

Disaster struck on Wednesday 1 November 1961 when one of its Bristol freighter aircraft came down in a field close to Guernsey Airport. The pilot and co-pilot were killed, the air hostess was thrown out of the back of the aircraft and the seven passengers in the rear compartment were lightly injured. The part of the plane they were sitting in had separated entirely from the rest of the fuselage, and they ended up in a different field, still strapped to their seats.

Witnesses described the plane pulling up steeply, banking, then coming down in the fog, throwing wreckage into the air. It then burst into flames. All three of the cars it was carrying were destroyed in the inferno.

When the inquiry into the crash published its conclusions in January 1963, it placed the blame on a failed propeller pitch unit. When the part was taken to pieces, investigators discovered that someone – who could not be identified – had done a poor repair job. Instead of using the spring it needed they had evidently taken a longer spring, cut it down and filed off one end. This bodged repair led directly to the loss of two lives, three cars and the aircraft itself.

The pilot had missed his landing so was trying to go around again but found himself unable to get sufficient height. The starboard engine was only turning very slowly and, because of the non-standard switch repair, the pilot was unable to correct it. This explains why witnesses saw the aircraft banking before its wing hit the ground.

Silver City Airways

Silver City has a somewhat notable history. It participated in the Berlin Airlift, helped carry Hindu and Muslim refugees between India and Pakistan, and established the world’s first air ferry service across the English Channel. It was ambitious, too: its inaugural service was no quick hop across the water, but London to Sydney via Johannesburg.

It was to become the UK’s largest air cargo firm, eventually carrying close to 100,000 cars across the Channel every year.

In 1962 it was taken over by British United Airways, which itself merged with Caledonian Airways in 1970 to form British Caledonian. This was acquired by British Airways in 1988.

Bristol Superfreighter

The Bristol Superfreighter that crashed in Guernsey was first flown in 1953. It had been designed specifically for Silver City Airways in much the same way that Britten-Norman had designed the Trislander specifically to suit the needs of Aurigny.

It could carry three cars and 20 passengers or, when converted away from freight use, 60 passengers.

The twin-engined craft was 22m (73ft) long, with a 33m (108ft) wingspan. Its range was 820 miles (1320km), with a maximum speed of 225mph (362kmh).


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Other events that occured in November

Car plane air crash caused airport fireball 1st
A hospital worker stood accused of murder 2nd
Sark’s vineyards were vandalised 3rd
The original Torteval church was consecrated 4th
Sibyl Beaumont married Robert Hathaway 5th
The papers were excited by a Guernsey execution 6th
The States agrees to pay the Bailiff 7th
States of Guernsey hired its first independent vet
The Little Theatre was reprieved… for a while 8th
Guernsey was declared free of cholera 9th
Guernsey optician Specsavers was founded 10th
The court considered a Guernsey porn dealer’s testimony 11th
Guernsey Yacht Club was founded 12th
Guernsey aimed for equal adoption rights 13th
Jethou’s tenant fell off his own cliff 14th
Dad’s Army actor John le Mesurier died 15th
A Guernsey recruit regretted signing up 16th
Horticultural painter William Caparne was born 17th
German forces confiscated Guernsey’s radios 18th
A plane crashed on Crevichon 19th
Sark featured in the music charts 20th
Guernsey recruits caused concern in Parliament 21st
First Guernsey competitor took part in Miss World 22nd
A Lancaster bomber crashed on Sark 23rd
Sark women get the right to inherit 24th
Spanish flu arrived on Guernsey 25th
Guernsey held its first full marathon 26th
Admiral Thomas Le Marchant Gosselin died 27th
HMS Boreas sank at Hanois 28th
Radio station Contact 94 went off the air 29th
Royal Guernsey Light Infantry memorial was unveiled 30th