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ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 208040
Last updated: 11 November 2019
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Date:17-JAN-1939
Time:10:30 LT
Type:Gloster Gladiator II
Owner/operator:3 Sqn Royal Air Force (3 Sqn RAF)
Registration: K6151
C/n / msn:
Fatalities:Fatalities: 1 / Occupants: 1
Other fatalities:1
Aircraft damage: Written off (damaged beyond repair)
Location:Chapel Green, Crowborough, Sussex -   United Kingdom
Phase: En route
Nature:Military
Departure airport:RAF Kenley, Surrey
Destination airport:
Narrative:
Gloster Gladiator Mk.II K6151
03/04/37: Delivered From Manufacturer to 3 Squadron, RAF Kenley, Surrey
21/04/38: To 73 Squadron on loan and then returned.
11/07/38: Returned from 73 Squadron back to 3 Squadron
17/01/39: Flew into house on high ground in bad visibility, Chapel Green, Crowborough, Sussex, and Damaged Beyond Repair; Acting Pilot Officer Donald James Catt (RAFO, aged 23) killed. Miss Ella Coomber (agd 57) was killed in the house. Mrs Halte Smyley (also in the house at the time of the crash) was injured. As firemen dealt with the fire that followed some of the ammo on board the Gladiator started to explode and on recovering the bodies of Donald and Miss Coomber it was found they both had bullet wounds, but it was believed they had both died instantly and not as a result of the bullets. According to a contemporary newspaper report (Kent & Sussex Courier - Friday 20 January 1939):

TWO KILLED IN CROWBOROUGH AIR TRAGEDY.
R.A.F. plane strikes house.
Pilot Dead : Maid Killed Instantaneously.

Two people lost their lives when a single-seater R.A.F. biplane crashed through the roof of a house on Chapel Green, Crowborough, on Tuesday morning. The house and 'plane were at once enveloped in flames, and within a remarkably short time all that could be seen was a mass of smouldering ruins. The names of the killed were Acting Pilot Officer Donald James Catt, stated to be a Sussex man, and Miss Ella Coomber, aged 58, maid-companion to Mrs. Smyly, occupier of the house. Mrs. Smyly, an elderly lady, was early rescued from the building, and was conveyed to the local hospital suffering from shock and minor injuries. The dwelling involved, "Cranford," was a two-storied building and was the property of the Rev. Basil E. Eldridge, former Vicar of Crowborough.

Accounts by those who were in the neighbourhood at the time indicate that a dense fog settled over Crowborough - the most elevated spot in the district - at about 10.30 a.m. The engines of one or more 'planes were then heard over the town. "The noise came very near," said one eye-witness, "and it seemed as if the machines had lost their bearings and were flying low to find out where they were." A man working on a hayrick in Eridge Road states that he actually saw a machine come out of the mist and it just managed clear the stack before rising again. In High Street, several people were brought out into the road by the noise. One machine went low over the roofs of houses. It then disappeared into the fog in a southerly direction. Almost immediately afterwards, it would appear that explosions were heard.

"I heard an explosion and then saw a flash," said Mr. P. Kimber, of the Chapel Green Sub-Post Office. "Then there were further - but smaller - explosions, and then I heard a crash." This evidence was confirmed by scholars at the Sir Henry Fermor Schools nearby. A newsboy, then on his rounds on a push-cycle, takes up the story at this point. He says-. "I was in the road when I saw an aeroplane come out the fog. It looked as if it was coming straight for me. I felt a bit frightened, I can tell you, but it went over and struck the corner house, and then landed on the house next door. Then I heard a roar and saw the house in flames." The lad said he thought the aeroplane might have been trying to land on Chapel Green.

Miss Ida Spurway, a maid, who was in an upper window of "Little Wortham," the house which was first struck, stated: "I heard the aeroplane coming over terribly low. I looked up, then heard a terrific noise and everything then seemed to be in flames." Miss Spurway ran down-stairs, saw what had happened and went back into the house to telephone the police, ambulance and fire brigade. Actually, only a corner of the roof of "Little Wortham," a large house occupied by Mrs. M. A Lescher, was struck by the 'plane. This may have been by a tip of the wing, which would, however, have been sufficient to deflect the machine into "Cranford."

It was Mr. F. A. Peerless, gardener at The Priest's Cottage, who distinctly saw two 'planes on emerging from the Roman Catholic Church, where he had been working in the stokehole. He said: "I was brought out by the great noise. I looked up and saw two aeroplanes. One of them was making for the road at an angle of 45 degrees, and I knew it was hopeless for it to try to get clear. It seemed to come into the road and then I heard a crash. I ran over the green to the house, and saw what looked like the tail of an aeroplane sticking up, in flames. I heard groans coming from the house and went to the back to render assistance."

A chauffeur related how he saw an aeroplane evidently the second one - just clear the trees in the grounds of The Croft, the residence of Lieut.-Colonel and Mrs. Sefton D. Brancker. It then appeared to be making for Croydon."

14/03/39: Struck Off Charge (total time on airframe 22.15 hrs).

Sources:

1. Royal Air Force Aircraft K1000-K9999 (James J. Halley, Air Britain, 1976 page 49)
2. http://www.rcawsey.co.uk/Acc1939.htm
3. Flight Magazine (January 26, 1939 page 87) at https://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/view/1939/1939%20-%200213.html
4. http://surfcity.kund.dalnet.se/gladiator_raf_3.htm
5. http://www.rafcommands.com/forum/showthread.php?9272-Looking-for-3-Sqn-pilot
6. http://sussexhistoryforum.co.uk/index.php?topic=5299.0;wap2
7. The Guardian, London, England, Wednesday, January 18, 1939 at https://www.newspapers.com/newspage/259405021/


Revision history:

Date/timeContributorUpdates
22-Mar-2018 21:36 Dr. John Smith Added
22-Mar-2018 21:37 Dr. John Smith Updated [Narrative]
10-Nov-2018 22:04 Nepa Updated [Operator, Operator]

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