§ Mr. Attlee (by Private Notice)
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has any statement to make about the shooting down of a British aircraft off Hainan.
Yes, Sir. On the morning of 23rd July, a passenger aircraft of the British company, Cathay Pacific Airways, crashed into the sea near Hainan island while on a regular scheduled flight from Bangkok to Hong Kong. The aircraft was carrying 18 persons including the crew. After a search in which British and United States aircraft cooperated, nine survivors, including the pilot, were rescued by an amphibious aircraft of the United States Navy and brought to Hong Kong. One of the survivors has since died. The nationalities of all those killed, rescued and missing are being ascertained.
The pilot, who was injured, stated that while flying at 9,000 feet about 30 miles from Hainan his co-pilot drew attention to two low-winged radial-engined fighter aircraft with red markings. These aircraft were on the tail of the passenger aircraft and opened fire apparently with incendiary bullets setting two engines on fire. The pilot of the passenger aircraft took evasive action as the fighter aircraft followed him and continued firing. He landed in the sea at 160 miles per hour.
35 Since the fighter aircraft could clearly only have come from Chinese territory, Her Majesty's Chargé d'Affaires in Peking was instructed to protest most strongly to the Chinese Government against this wanton attack on a clearly marked British civil aircraft flying on a normal international air route.
We have now been informed by the Chinese Government that they admit responsibility for this attack which, they say, was entirely accidental. They have expressed their sympathy and regret, and say that they are willing to give consideration to the payment of appropriate benefit and compensation for the loss of life and for the damage to property. They also state that they are taking appropriate measures to deal with the incident. Her Majesty's Government welcome this prompt offer to make amends for this savage and inexcusable attack upon an unarmed passenger aircraft.
Her Majesty's Government wish to express the deepest sympathy for all those who have suffered tragic loss as the result of this wanton attack. We should also like to express our gratitude for the cooperation and assistance in rescue and search operations given by aircraft of the United States services.
The texts of the two Notes delivered by Her Majesty's Chargé d'Affaires in Peking over the week-end and of the Chinese Government's reply will be circulated in the OFFICIAL REPORT.
§ Mr. Attlee
I should like to associate hon. and right hon. Members on this side of the House with the Foreign Secretary's expression of regret at this incident, and express our sympathy with the relatives of those who lost their lives, and with those who suffered. While expressing our satisfaction at the fact that an apology has been made, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is aware that this is not the first time in which attacks have been made on civil aircraft by members of foreign air forces, who ought to be better informed? It seems to be absolutely inexcusable in this case. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman if the strongest representations cannot be made internationally for the avoidance of these incidents?
They have been made, and I must add that, in the judgment of Her 36 Majesty's Government, and in view of the clear markings on the aircraft attacked, we consider that disciplinary action should be taken by the Chinese Government against those concerned. We also think that measures must be taken at once to prevent a recurrence of such incidents as this.
§ Sir W. Fletcher
May I ask my right hon. Friend two questions arising from his statement? First, is this not an instance pointing to the fact that the control of the Central People's Government of China, in Peking, in the outlying areas, particularly in South and South-West China and the area near Hainan, is very slight indeed, and that they really do not possess sufficient control to ensure their wishes being carried out? Secondly, in view of the misrepresentations that may be made and the danger to life and limb, will my right hon. Friend use his good offices to see that the proposed visit of the Leader of the Opposition and his fellow travellers to China does not take place?
I think my answer shows that, whatever we feel about the action—and the House has expressed itself on that—the counter-action has also been swiftly taken. I think that, while the House retains all its feelings about these incidents, we should measure them in relation to what has actually taken place.
§ Mr. Beswick
Is it not also a fact that the Chinese People's Government have said that this machine, which is an American-type plane, was mistaken for a machine from Formosa. Has the right hon. Gentleman any information to the effect that machines of this type do, in fact, fly in this area from Formosa?
A great many things are being said in various parts of the world about this at the moment. I have only given the House the actual facts, as I know them, and, whatever the excuse or lack of excuse, as far as the British Government are concerned, this is an incident which ought not to have taken place; and we must ask the Chinese Government to ensure that it will never take place again.
Air Commodore Harvey
While we are all most grateful to the Americans for the rescue work which they carried out, 37 would my right hon. Friend satisfy himself that there are sufficient British aircraft which could carry out similar rescues if required; and, secondly, will he see that, for a period at any rate, there are escorts for these civil aircraft flying on their legitimate routes?
I think that civil aircraft have a right not to be interfered with, and that is really the basis upon which we stand. We understand that British aircraft did go on rescue work, but any question as to their type and number is a matter for the Secretary of State for Air.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
May I ask the Foreign Secretary if he would take some action whereby the feeling of admiration and appreciation of all of us for the bravery and competence of the pilot and crew in handling this situation, which, no doubt, contributed to the saving of a number of lives in this very unhappy disaster, might be conveyed to them?
I should be very happy to do so. I think that that represents the feeling of the whole House.
§ Following are the texts of the two Notes:
1st Note: 24th July, 1954.
I have been instructed by Her Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to bring the following matter to your attention.
On the morning of 23rd July a DC4 passenger aircraft of the British Company Cathay Pacific Airways, registration No. VRHEU, crashed into the sea near Hainan while on a regular scheduled flight from Bangkok to Hong Kong. The last signal received from the aircraft was an emergency call at 7.45 a.m. Peking time and stated that the port engine was on fire. The aircraft was carrying 17 persons including the crew. Subsequently 10 survivors, including the pilot, were rescued by amphibious aircraft and brought to Hong Kong.
The pilot who is injured, has now stated that while flying at 9,000 feet about 30 miles from Hainan in position 18 degrees north 110 degrees east his co-pilot drew attention to two cream coloured low wing piston engined fighter aircraft, rather like Japanese type Zeros with red filled-in markings. These aircraft were on the tail of the passenger aircraft and opened fire apparently with incendiary bullets setting two engines on fire. The instrument panel was marked by bullets. The pilot of the passenger aircraft took evasive action as the fighter aircraft followed him and continued firing. He landed in the sea at 160 miles per hour. It seems clear the fighter aircraft which attacked the aircraft VRHEU could only have
come from Chinese territory. I have been instructed to protest most strongly against this wanton attack on a British civil aircraft flying on a normal scheduled flight. Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom must hold the Peoples Government of the Peoples Republic of China responsible for the tragic loss of life and the injuries sustained. Her Majesty's Government reserve the right to claim full compensation.
2nd Note: 25th July. 1954.
The Office of Her Britannic Majesty's Chargé d'Affaires present their compliments to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Chinese Central Government of the Peoples' Republic of China and have the honour to refer to Note No. 122 dated 24th July, 1954, addressed by Her Britannic Majesty's Chargé d'Affaires to His Excellency, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Chang Han-fu, concerning a passenger aircraft of the British company Cathay Pacific Airways. The following information has now been received. The statements taken from the passengers give further details of the two fighter aircraft which shot down the passenger aircraft. According to these statements they were single engine fighters with radial piston engines, coloured cream or light grey and carrying a red circle on the fuselage as identification marks. They also had red spinners and a white stripe about three feet wide running across the wings just in from the wing tip. The pilot has reported that the aircraft disappeared in the direction of Son-ya.
The Office of Her Britannic Majesty's Chargé d'Affaires also wishes to inquire whether the Central Peoples' Government have any news of other survivors from the aircraft. Nine persons are still missing.