HC Deb 09 April 1968 vol 762 cc1078-81

Mr. Corfield (by Private Notice) asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he will make a statement giving such details as are at present available to him of the circumstances in which a B.O.A.C. Boeing 707, on a flight to Zurich, crashed at Heathrow on 8th April, 1968.

The Minister of State, Board of Trade (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu)

Yes, Sir.

A Boeing 707 of B.O.A.C. took off in a westerly direction at 1627 hours B.S.T. yesterday en route to Sydney with its first stop at Zurich. Very soon after takeoff the aircraft reported fire in an engine on the port side and asked for an emergency landing. The aircraft was cleared to land on any runway. Whilst it was turning to the left for a landing on runway 05, the engine, which is now known to be the inner port engine, became detached and fell away into a water-filled gravel pit. By this time the fire had spread to the wing structure and continued to burn. The pilot maintained control and landed the aircraft successfully on runway 05 with the wing still on fire. The airport fire and rescue services, which had been alerted and were in position near to the runway, went into operation as soon as the aircraft came to rest. The fire spread rapidly from the port side and was accompanied by explosions. Passengers were evacuated through exits mainly on the starboard side. Four passengers and one stewardess were killed but the remaining 121 occupants escaped.

A team of investigators from the Accidents Investigation Branch of the Board of Trade began investigating the cause of the accident within two hours with the co-operation of experts from B.O.A.C.

The House will join me in expressing sympathy with the relatives and friends of those who lost their lives and in wishing a speedy recovery to those who were injured.

The House would also like me to pay the highest possible tribute to the skill of Captain Taylor and his crew, to the rescue services, and to the calmness of the passengers. The prompt evacuation of so many people in such circumstances was a miracle of skill and organisation.

Mr. Corfield

I associate myself and my right hon. hon. Friend with the Minister's expression of sympathy to the bereaved and his congratulations to and admiration of Captain Taylor, the crew and those concerned with the rescue operation for their remarkable achievement in reducing injury and loss of life. May I put it to the hon. Gentleman that their success must, in part, be due to the fact that B.O.A.C. uses aviation kerosene as a fuel and not the more inflammable fuel used by other airlines? Will he do his utmost to press that this should become universal practice for all airlines, or, at any rate, for those operating into airports in this country?

Mr. Mallalieu

The point about kerosene is very well taken.

Mr. Rankin

Is my hon. Friend aware that in due course—perhaps sooner than we are thinking at present—the jumbo-jet, with its capacity of 400 passengers, will be with us? In the light of yesterday's disaster, would it not seem necessary now to have a fresh look at the extent and nature of our present safety precautions?

Mr. Mallalieu

I think that the safety drills proved themselves absolutely admirable in this accident.

Mr. Onslow

Can the hon. Gentleman say what sort of inquiry will be set up into the circumstances of this disaster, which had a miraculously small toll but which might have been very much more serious?

Mr. Mallalieu

The investigation has already started, and we shall go through with it. Whether it will be necessary to have a public inquiry later remains for my right hon. Friend to decide in the light of the facts which are elicited. But the investigation will be so technical—it is totally about the engine—that I rather doubt whether it will be necessary for the inquiry to go public.

Mr. Lubbock

May I associate my party with the expressions of sympathy for the bereaved and the congratulations which have been extended to the captain, crew and rescue services?

May I ask the hon. Gentleman two questions? First, if he is satisfied that this accident might have been a great deal worse if JP4 had been used. will he make fresh approaches to the International Civil Aviation Organisation with a view to having JP4 totally banned from the world's airlines? Secondly, does not this fresh accident illustrate the folly of Sir Giles Guthrie's having cancelled the last ten VC1Os which he had on order? How does he think that the airline will be able to maintain its schedules with the reduced fleet?

Mr. Mallalieu

I have already dealt with the point about the use of kerosene. I note what the hon. Gentleman says about JP4 and will consider it. I spoke to the Chairman of B.O.A.C. at Heathrow last night. He tells me that he will be able quite satisfactorily to keep to the schedules.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

Was it not fortunate that the aeroplane took off in a westerly direction over comparatively open country and that the engine fell into a disused gravel pit rather than, as it might have done if the wind had been another way, into a built-up area? Can the hon. Gentleman say whether the engine will be recovered from the gravel pit so that tests can be made on it?

Mr. Mallalieu

I understand that it has already been recovered.

Mr. Fortescue

Would the hon. Gentleman reconsider the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow)? Since five lives were lost in this disaster, surely there should be a public inquiry, no matter how technical the cause of the accident.

Mr. Mallalieu

My mind is certainly not closed to the possibility of having a public inquiry. But we will go through the usual procedure first of having an ordinary straightforward investigation and then see what happens.