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ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 160209
Last updated: 26 August 2020
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Date:27-MAR-1949
Time:afternoon
Type:Silhouette image of generic SPIT model; specific model in this crash may look slightly different
Supermarine Spitfire Mk 22
Owner/operator:615 (County of Surrey) Squadron Royal Air Force (615 (County of Surrey) Sqn RAF)
Registration: PK372
C/n / msn: CBAF.
Fatalities:Fatalities: 1 / Occupants: 1
Other fatalities:1
Aircraft damage: Written off (damaged beyond repair)
Location:Cresswells Farm, Leaves Green, Orpington, Kent -   United Kingdom
Phase: En route
Nature:Training
Departure airport:RAF Biggin Hill, Bromley, Kent
Destination airport:RAF Biggin Hill, Bromley, Kent
Narrative:
PK372: Spitfire F.22. Delivered to 39MU 3-8-45. To Vickers Armstrongs Keevil, Wiltshire 22-4-47 for mods. Issued to 615 (County of Surrey) Squadron 9-9-48. Written off (destroyed) when dived into house out of cloud during weather test Creswells Farm, Leaves Green, Orpington Kent (FACE - Flying Accident Cat. E) 27-3-49. Struck off charge and sold for scrap 5-8-49. Pilot - Flight Lt Derek Alfred Benson, killed, along with one person on the ground.

The pilot was carrying out a weather test, but the pilot was out of practice in respect of instrument flying (IFR), and it is thought that he lost control of the aircraft while "flying blind" in cloud. The aircraft was seen to dive steeply out of the cloudbase at around 800 feet, "mushed" into the ground, and struck a house at Leaves Green, Keston, Kent, injuring two men, and killing a young woman on the ground.

Note that sources differ as the the exact location of the crash site: "Cresswells Farm, Leaves Green, Orpington, Kent" is stated on official reports as the crash location for Spitfire PK372 and the location of where the pilot died. However, civilian authorities give the location of death for the young woman killed as "Anne Drina Forbes Cockell. Born Sept 1930 Marylebone. Probate of 102 Rivermead Court, Ranelagh Gdns, Hurlingham, Middx. Spinster died 27.3.1949 at Leaves Green Keston, Kent". The two locations are some 2.4 miles apart.

Therefore reports that Spitfire PK372 crashing at "102 Rivermead Court, Hurlingham, Middlesex" are based on the home address of the brother of the female civilian casualty (a long way - some 20 miles - from where she was, and where the accident occurred) and others give the crash location as "Leavis Green" [sic] which doesn't exist, and is probably a mis-recording of "Leaves Green", which is some 5 miles south of Bromley and 2 miles north of Biggin Hill.

According to a contemporary newspaper report ("Daily Herald" - Monday 28 March 1949)

"Spitfire kills girl in parlour
In the split-second in which a runaway 400-miles-an-hour Spitfire tore through this show-piece Kent hamlet on the edge of "Death Valley," considered by wartime pilots to be one of the worst flying areas in Britain.

The pilot, Flight-Lieut. D. A. Benson, one of the RAF's most brilliant young flyers, was left dead high up in the trees which centre the village green; A pretty girl visitor, 18-year-old Miss Ann Drina Forbes Cockell, was killed in the cottage parlour in which she sat. Two men were cut down and seriously injured by a flying wing that screamed up the street. The plane's tail, flying airborne full tilt at the timber walls of the King's Arms tavern, in which seven men were drinking, was diverted by a parked car. Walls, trees, hedges and house along a quarter-mile track through the centre of the village were demolished as if by a tornado.

As cars passed
It It all happened in a flash just after noon, when men were out with their dogs, women were cooking the Sunday meal, and a long procession of cars passing through on the way to the open country. London stockbroker Mr. Seton Forbes Cockell, of Rivermead Court, Hurlingham, S.W., whose sister was killed, said:

"I had left my sister in the downstairs parlour of Farm Cottage with Ann Camilla Leworthy, five-year-old daughter of my friends, who own the house. Their baby son Richard (nearly a year old) was in his pram in the garden, but near the door of the room. I was upstairs when the whole building seemed to leap, and I heard the roar of falling masonry. There was a stench of petrol and oil. I found myself on a sort of bridge of tottering walls and plaster."

Dog fell dead
"Everywhere outside was a litter of aeroplane wreckage. I found that the plane's engine had shot completely through the ground floor, missing the children by inches. My sister was dead."

Mr. H. Greaves, of Twickenham, motoring by, said: "I was passing the King's Arms when hundreds of pieces of aluminium, flashing in the bright sun, spattered up the street like grape-shot. I saw a man walking with his dog. The dog dropped dead. The tail-unit of a plane dashed straight at the King's Arms bar, hita car outside and crushed it like a matchbox, spun for a moment like a top and then flew on past the inn. So far as I could see, the car, flung by the flying tail, demolished the front of the inn."

Petrol everywhere
Farther up the road Alan Ellis, of Swivelands-road, Biggin Hill, and George Statham, of West-road, Biggin Hill, had started to cross towards a phone box. They lay on the ground after a wing had screeched by, the one with a broken leg, the other with head injuries. George Statham said tonight:

"I saw the plane make one complete circuit over the aerodrome. Then the note of its engines changed and I could hear it come screaming down."

Customers in the King's Arms bar, said: "It was just as if a shell had hit the place. Outside was petrol everywhere, but although we had a fire and most of us were smoking there was no outbreak."

Through a wall
The plane hit Tom Gallon's meadow as if in a desperate effort to land, shot through an orchard, tearing the tops off six trees, demolished a high flint wall, travelled 100 yards across the front lawn of unoccupied Old House Farm, tearing down more trees, and then bouncing from a second wall which it also demolished, disintegrated. From here on engine, wings, tall and fuselage all went different ways. Twenty-one fragments were picked up in a square yard of the main street. Cars travelling through the village were pitted as if with shrapnel."

It should be noted that the above newspaper ("The Daily Herald") changed its name in 1964 the "The Sun"; apparently, hyperbole and "purple prose" in its reporting was something that was established long before the name change!

Crew of Spitfire PK372:
Flight Lt Derek Alfred Benson, RAF (pilot, aged 26) is buried in Keston Parish Churchyard.

Sources:

1. Halley, James (1999) Broken Wings Post-War Royal Air Force Accidents Tunbridge Wells: Air-Britain (Historians) Ltd. p. 87 ISBN 0-85130-290-4.
2. Final Landings: A Summary of RAF Aircraft and Combat Losses 1946-49 by Colin Cummings p 488
3. Air-Britain Royal Air Force Aircraft PA100-RZ999
4. http://www.airhistory.org.uk/spitfire/p085.html
5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leaves_Green
6. http://sussexhistoryforum.co.uk/index.php?topic=11474.0 ..


Related books:

Revision history:

Date/timeContributorUpdates
07-Sep-2013 03:18 JINX Added
29-Dec-2013 11:18 angels one five Updated [Aircraft type, Operator, Total fatalities, Other fatalities, Location, Departure airport, Destination airport, Source, Narrative]
29-Dec-2013 18:35 angels one five Updated [Location]
03-Mar-2014 17:44 Nepa Updated [Aircraft type, Operator]
23-Apr-2014 08:23 angels one five Updated [Aircraft type, Operator, Nature]
27-Mar-2015 17:58 Jixon Updated [Operator, Departure airport, Narrative]
27-Mar-2015 17:59 Jixon Updated [Location, Source]
11-Feb-2020 23:12 Dr. John Smith Updated [Time, Cn, Other fatalities, Location, Departure airport, Destination airport, Source, Narrative]
11-Feb-2020 23:15 Dr. John Smith Updated [Source, Narrative]
11-Feb-2020 23:17 Dr. John Smith Updated [Source, Narrative]

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