HC Deb 04 May 1955 vol 540 cc123-4W
37 and 38. Wing Commander Hulbert

asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air (1) what means were taken to track the Varsity aircraft which took off from Thorney Island on an unauthorised flight on Monday, 25th April, until it crashed in France;

(2) if he will make a statement about the unauthorised flight of a Varsity aircraft which took off from Thorney Island on Monday, 25th April.

Mr. Ward

At about 7 p.m. on 25th April a Royal Air Force Varsity aircraft No. WF 246 piloted by Leading Aircraftman Nanik Agnani took off from the R.A.F. Station, Thorney Island, on an unauthorised flight. At the time the station was engaged in a training exercise and was awaiting the return of three other Varsities. Leading Aircraftman Nanik Agnani was a member of ground crew. Attempts were made by the staff at Royal Air Force, Thorney Island, to prevent the aircraft from taking off, but these efforts were unavailing.

The Flight Commander, Flight Lieutenant Smiles, took off in another Varsity in an endeavour to shepherd Agnani back to the airfield and to pass landing instructions by radio. The aircraft piloted by Agnani, after circling the airfield several times, flew in the direction of Chichester and over Brighton at a low altitude. It then turned north and was tracked by radar and by the pursuing aircraft as far as Hornchurch, where it turned westward and flew over Central London at heights sometimes as low as 200 ft. At this point, in the fading light, the pursuing aircraft lost visual contact. The aircraft was observed by radar to have turned north-east and the pursuing aircraft was directed on this course. A few minutes later, at 9.5 p.m., radar contact was lost and Flight Lieutenant Smiles reported a fire on the ground at a point which coincided with the last position of the aircraft as observed by radar, and Service and civil authorities were instructed to search for the wreckage.

Royal Air Force stations over a large area of Southern England were instructed to turn on runway lights in case the Varsity piloted by Agnani was in fact still airborne and endeavouring to land. A few minutes after midnight the aircraft crashed on the village of Onnaing near Valenciennes in Northern France, killing three people and seriously injuring three others, besides doing considerable damage to property. Leading Aircraftman Agnani was himself killed.

The unauthorised take-off and the subsequent crash are the subject of a Court of Inquiry. I should like to take this opportunity of expressing the sympathy of the Air Council with the relatives of those who lost their lives, and with the injured.

40. Mr. I. O. Thomas

asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air if he will give consideration to making arrangements for payment to be made without delay of generous amounts in compensation to the people who were injured, and to the families and dependants of those who were killed, as a result of the Royal Air Force aircraft crash at Onnaing, near Valenciennes, France, during Monday night, 25th April, 1955.

Mr. de Freitas

asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air what compensation will be paid in respect of damage done by the Royal Air Force Varsity aircraft which took off from Thorney Island on 25th April and which crashed in Northern France.

Mr. Ward

Compensation to those who suffered loss or injury will be paid as if the accident had occurred in this country, and arrangements have been made for dealing with claims.

Forward to