HC Deb 18 November 1957 vol 578 cc40-2

Mr. J. Howard (by Private Notice) asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation if he will make a statement upon the loss of an aircraft of Aquila Airways in a fatal accident on 15th November, 1957.

The Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. Harold Watkinson)

On Friday evening last, at about 10.46 p.m. G.M.T., a Solent flying boat, G-AKNU, of Aquila Airways Ltd. took off from Southampton Water for Lisbon. Nine minutes later the captain signalled that he was returning in a hurry with No. 4 propeller feathered and at about 11.10 p.m. the aircraft crashed near Chessel, in the Isle of Wight, and caught fire.

I regret to inform the House that of the 58 passengers and crew aboard, 43 were killed, 2 have subsequently died of injuries, 5 are seriously injured and 8 not so seriously.

I have decided that a public inquiry shall be held. Meanwhile, the Chief Inspector of Accidents has commenced detailed investigations.

The House will, I am sure, wish to join with me in expressing deep sympathy with the bereaved and with those who have suffered injury through this accident.

Mr. Howard

In thanking my right hon. Friend for his statement, may I say that the expressions of sympathy which he has expressed are shared by everyone in this House, I am sure, and, moreover, are shared by everyone connected, with the Port of Southampton. They will wish to express the deepest personal sympathy with the relatives of those who perished in this terrible accident.

The accident is all the more terrible because of the impressive safety record of the flying boats. This is the first occasion, I understand, on which Aquila Airways have lost the life of a passenger in the many miles flown from Southampton Water.

May I ask my right hon. Friend also to express the good wishes and thanks of this House to all concerned with the gallant attempts at rescue?

Mr. Beswick

May I say that my right hon. and hon. Friends on this side of the House will certainly wish to be associated with the message of sympathy which the Minister has offered on behalf of this House? It would be wrong to ask questions of detail until the inquiry has taken place, but may I put a point to the Minister? There are special reasons why, in this case, and in another case, the cause of the accident should be established as quickly as possible, but, because investigation officers must now be very fully engaged, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to assure us that it will not be any question of a lack of expert officers or expert staff that will prevent the speedy pursuance of the three inquiries which will now have to take place?

Mr. Watkinson

I can certainly give that assurance.

Dr. King

Hon. Members on this side of the House will wish to be associated with the sympathy which the Government have expressed to the dependants of those who have lost their lives, and in the admiration of the police, the fire service, the ambulance and voluntary workers who did such a magnificent job under emergency circumstances.

May I add two requests to what was said by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. J. Howard)? Will the right hon. Gentleman put to his colleague the Minister of Health the point raised by Mr. J. B. Priestley that ambulances are without morphia and without plasma, and that both would have been invaluable in this accident? When the inquiry is made, will the inquirers look particularly into the problem of who is to decide, and when shall it be decided, that a heavily laden aeroplane should take off in adverse weather conditions?

Mr. Watkinson

All these matters are relevant to the inquiry. I will only say that very brave attempts at rescue were made, as my hon. Friend has said. I am sure that the whole House will wish to congratulate those who tried to save life.