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ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 173180
Last updated: 12 October 2021
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Time:13:11 LT
Type:Silhouette image of generic F86 model; specific model in this crash may look slightly different
Canadair Sabre VI (F-86F)
Owner/operator:421 (Red Indian) Sqn RCAF
Registration: 23380
MSN: 1170
Fatalities:Fatalities: 1 / Occupants: 1
Other fatalities:0
Aircraft damage: Written off (damaged beyond repair)
Location:Iron Crag, 1 mile south of Ennerdale Water, Cumberland -   United Kingdom
Phase: En route
Departure airport:RAF Prestwick, Ayrshire (EGPK)
Destination airport:Grostenquin, France
Canadair Sabre 6 23380 "BB-380" of No.421 Squadron RCAF, crashed on Iron Crag near Ennerdale Water on the 26th June 1959 close to the summit of Iron Crag after which the aircraft broke up.

On Friday, 26 June 1959, a Canadair CL-13B Mk 6 Sabe had been scheduled for a cross-country exercise from Prestwick to Weathersfield; the pilot was Flying Officer R.G. Starling of 421 RCAF Squadron. Taking off at 13:00 hours, he soon entered a thick mist which had blanketed itself over the Cumbrian Fells. heading in a south-easterly direction, he gained height to avoid the hills of Dumfries and made his way via the Solway Firth. Visibility was still poor as he crossed the Solway Firth around 13:06 hours, and for reasons unknown he had made a descent to 2,000 feet - it was probably made in haste as the pilot would much prefer to have visual contact with the ground below than rely on instruments. The descent, though, would prove to be a fatal mistake, for the pilot had not yet cleared all of the high ground on his flight path.

Below, lurking in the mist, was the 2,077 foot summit of Iron Crag, just one mile south on Ennerdale Water. At 13:11 hours the Sabre struck the mountain just below the summit, breaking up on impact and sending fragments of wreckage cascading down the rocky spree. The cockpit section tore itself away from the fuselage and, with its occupant, tumbled down the mountainside and wedged itself amongst the boulders. The pilot had been killed instantly, and wreckage from the ill-fated jet lay undetected for over two days due to bad weather.

When the aircraft failed to arrive at Weathersfield it was posted overdue, and in a case such as this a waiting period is enforced, usually until all the fuels in the tanks has expired. It was not unusual for an aircraft flying in heavy cloud or bad weather to lose radio contact and find itself lost. There have been occasions when an aircraft with exhausted fuel supplies has had to land at other bases after becoming lost; this possibility with Sabre 23380 could not be ruled out.

Several hours passed, though, and still nothing was heard, either from Flying Officer Starling or other bases. It was now time to order a search for the missing jet. Two teams of RAF personnel set off in jeeps to search the high ground, but due to low visibility and drizzle nothing could be found as darkness drew in on the eve of the crash. The following morning (Saturday) the search continued around the areas of Loweswater and Ennerdale; again the searchers were plagued by poor visibility and low cloud on the fells. Nothing was found that day.

It was now Sunday 28 June, and, still weary from the previous day's search, RAF personnel made their way up the steep and arduous slope of Iron Crag. It was here that they discovered the missing jet. A trail of debris littered the rocky scree for almost a mile, and the pilot, still strapped in his seat, was found in the shattered cockpit of the wrecked fighter. On his wrist was his watch which had stopped at 13:11 hours, so confirming the time of the fatal accident.

Due to the rugged terrain and the height at which the Sabre crashed, much of the wreckage from this aircraft still remains where it fell over sixty years ago, a poignant reminder of the young airman's life. The most substantial piece of wreckage that remains is one of the wings, to which a plaque had been affixed, denoting the details of the fatal crash

Crew of Sabre 23380:
Flying Officer Robert Gordon Starling RCAF (Pilot, Service Number 216497, aged 27) - killed on active service 26/6/1959. Buried Brookwood Cemetery, Surrey (Canada/B/2).

For many years after the crash the near-complete tail section that was at the site before finding its way to Millom Air Museum but since the museum's closure where it now is housed is not known. Some smaller parts (such as the nose undercarriage leg, and park of the engine compressor turbines) were still present as recently as 2018


1. The Daily News 27 June 1959, p1

Revision history:

21-Jan-2015 21:09 Dr. John Smith Added
21-Jan-2015 21:12 Dr. John Smith Updated [Aircraft type]
25-May-2015 11:10 Opietz Updated [Time, Operator]
25-Dec-2017 20:04 TB Updated [Operator, Location, Nature, Departure airport, Destination airport, Narrative]
10-Mar-2018 18:29 TB Updated [Source]
16-Mar-2018 16:37 TB Updated [Source]
09-Sep-2020 22:24 Dr. John Smith Updated [Time, Operator, Location, Departure airport, Destination airport, Source, Narrative]
11-Sep-2020 19:08 Opietz Updated [Operator, Location, Departure airport, Operator]
26-Dec-2020 21:04 Dr.Roup Updated [Operator, Source, Operator]

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