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ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 204644
Last updated: 29 March 2021
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Type:Handley Page Halifax Mk I
Owner/operator:35 (Madras Presidency) Squadron Royal Air Force (35 (Madras Presidency) Sqn RAF)
Registration: L9487
C/n / msn:
Fatalities:Fatalities: 6 / Occupants: 6
Aircraft damage: Written off (damaged beyond repair)
Location:Howefield House, near Baldersby St. James, Yorkshire, England -   United Kingdom
Phase: En route
Departure airport:RAF Linton-on-Ouse
Destination airport:
On the outbreak of World War II, 35 Sqn RAF was designated a training unit, supplementing its Battles with Avro Ansons and Bristol Blenheims late in 1939. The squadron disbanded after being absorbed into 17 OTU along with 90 Sqn at RAF Upwood, on 8 April 1940. 35 Sqn reformed on 5 November 1940 at RAF Linton-on-Ouse in Yorkshire as the first Handley Page Halifax squadron.

On 13 January 1941 one of the brand-new aircraft of this squadron, the Halifax I L9487, took off from a fuel consumption test from Linton-on-Ouse airfield at 1120 hrs. It carried a mixed crew but all were operationally experienced and qualified to carry out the test. They were to carry out the test at 12,000ft at which they were to cruise at that height for an hour and measure the fuel consumption.

About half an hour after taking off the aircraft was seen near Dishforth at around 3,000 ft with the port undercarriage down and a trail of vapour behind the port side of the aircraft. One of the port engines was also seen not to be working. The vapour then ignited (probably as a result of being ignited by an engine exhaust flame) and a large fire was seen on the port side of the aircraft after which the aircraft entered a steep dive before crashing from 2,500 ft at Howefield House, near Baldersby St. James, between Thirsk and Dishforth at 1153 hrs. All the airmen on board were sadly killed instantly. The fire was thought to have burnt away the aircrafts tail control surfaces making the aircraft become uncontrollable. The crew were found to have all been wearing their parachutes and all were probably preparing to bale out when the aircraft entered the spiralling dive and as a result they were unable to get out.

Crew (all killed):
Flt Lt Michael Thomas Gibson Henry DFC (pilot, aged 28, of Compton Chamberlayne, Wiltshire)
Plt Off Leslie Joseph McDonald (2nd pilot, aged 23, of Karori, Wellington, New Zealand)
Sgt John Naoier Hall (observer)
Sgt Anthony Charles Henry Reid Russell (wireless operator/air gunner, aged 22)
Sgt William Charles Browne "Laddie" Jesse RAF DFM (wireless operator/air gunner, aged 22, of Dublin, Irish Republic)
Sgt Francis Leslie Plowman (flight engineer, aged 21) from Doncaster

This incident was the first Halifax accident in Yorkshire and there would be well over 1000 Halifaxes to crash in the County with all too many fatalities. This loss was almost certainly the first of many thousand fatal Halifax flying accidents. An AIB investigation was carried out following the accident, although rare this is understandable.

The cause of the fire was blamed on the failure of groundcrew at Linton on Ouse to put the fuel-filler cap back on one of the port fuel tanks after it had been refuelled. The vapour seen behind the port wing would also certainly have been fuel, which, by the time it ignited had soaked into the tail section of the aircraft. Also of note is that the port outer engine had been suffering trouble since its delivery. It suffered a coolant leak on 3 December 1940 which resulted in a new radiator being fitted and then the same engine showed low oil pressure, it was run-up on 24 December 1940 and a new oil relief valve had to be fitted. Following the crash all the engines were removed and taken away for inspection and this engine was found to have suffered an oil shortage in the air prior to the crash, part of the crankshaft had broken causing the failure of the engine. Further investigation of other early Halifaxes found that this was a design problem. When full of fuel and in a tail-down position the oil pumps on the outer engines were above the oil level. This oil system was later changed to stop the problem re-occuring. Why the undercarriage had droppped or been lowered is not known.

Halifax L9487 was built by Handley Page Ltd and first flown from Radlett on 25 November 1940, it was delivered to the RAF at 24 MU the following day and then to 35 Squadron on 4 January 1941. Its total flying time upto the crash was only four hours.

"Royal Air Force Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War, vol 2: Aircraft and Crew Losses 1941", by W R Chorley. ISBN 0-904597-87-3

Revision history:

18-Jan-2018 16:13 Laurent Rizzotti Added
26-Oct-2018 18:34 stehlik49 Updated [Operator]
15-Jul-2019 18:00 Anon. Updated [Narrative]

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