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ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 210067
Last updated: 15 April 2020
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Date:29-NOV-1939
Time:night
Type:Bristol Blenheim Mk IF
Owner/operator:604 (County of Middlesex) Squadron Royal Air Force (604 (County of Middlesex) Sqn RAF)
Registration: L6601
C/n / msn:
Fatalities:Fatalities: 2 / Occupants: 2
Other fatalities:0
Aircraft damage: Written off (damaged beyond repair)
Location:Bell Common, near Epping, Essex -   United Kingdom
Phase: Initial climb
Nature:Military
Departure airport:RAF North Weald, Essex
Destination airport:
Narrative:
Bristol Blenheim Mk.I L6601, 604 (County of Middlesex) Squadron, RAF North Weald: Written off (destroyed) 29/11/39 when dived into the ground at night, Bell Common, near Epping, Essex (at approximate co ordintes 51.68N, 00.08E). Both crew members were killed:

Flying Officer Philip Clifton Wheeler (Service Number 90213, aged 29) killed
L.A/C Vernon Henry Oliver (Service Number 804281, aged 21) killed

According to the following published source (see link #7):

"November 29, 1939.
In addition to the Hawker Hurricane squadrons stationed at North Weald, the airfield was host to a number of passing communications and training aircraft and a squadron of night fighters. The night fighter element consisted of twin engine Bristol Blenheim aircraft not possessing any more superior night flying aids than those fitted into the Hurricane's excepting a second engine and crew member.

From September 1939 the 'night fighter' squadron allotted to the Essex airfield was 604, equipped with the short nosed mark 1 Blenheim. L6601 was one of their aircraft. The pilot on that evening, Flying Officer P C Wheeler, aged 29, was a pre-war member of the Auxiliary Air Force. Gaining his pilot's brevet in late July 1936 he had accumulated 386 hours of flying time, 59 of which were on the Blenheim.

The purpose of the evening flight was to train for night fighting. The other, rear seat, member of the two-man crew was L.A/C Vernon. The engines started normally. The Blenheim moved out and took off towards Epping town (in those days the runways were still grass, allowing most permutations in take off and landing direction).

The aircraft was flying at around 1,000 feet over Bell Common, to the south of Epping in a steep climb when it fell sharply into fields near the modern motorway tunnel mouth.

The subsequent Court of Enquiry found that Flying Officer Wheeler, whilst undertaking a turn in particularly dark conditions, lost sight of ground references, due partly to the surrounding bulk of the pair of engines, allowing the aircraft to enter a steeper than usual wing down attitude and lose height.

Witnesses on the ground, including a Mrs Church of Nazeing, thought they saw signs of engine problems prior to the crash. Such a matter, if the RAF had known it, may have resulted in a slightly different result but was of little real consequence in wartime.

Blenheim L6601 was built by A V Roe and delivered to 24MU on November 17, 1938 prior to issue to 604 squadron on June 21 the following year. At the time of its loss it was a little over one year old."

It is notable that the official Air Ministry Board of Inquiry File into the accident (File AIR 81/1698) is closed until 1 January 2056 - over 116 years after the date of the accident. The decision to keep the file closed was taken in 2015 on the grounds of "Exemption 1: Personal information where the applicant is a 3rd party" and "Exemption 2: Information provided in confidence".

Sources:

1. Royal Air Force Aircraft L1000-L9999 (James J. Halley, Air Britain, 1978 p 44)
2. National Archives (PRO Kew) File AIR 81/1698: https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C16359600
3. http://www.rcawsey.co.uk/Acc1939a.htm
4. https://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/2706773/wheeler,-philip-clifton/
5. https://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/2691125/oliver,-vernon-henry/
6. http://nwamuseum.co.uk/IncidentsWestEssexto2000-1.pdf
7. http://www.brynelliott.co.uk/about_htm_files/WESTESSEXcrashesMishaps3WW2.pdf
8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bell_Common
9. http://www.nwamuseum.co.uk/remembering.htm


Related books:

Revision history:

Date/timeContributorUpdates
28-Apr-2018 20:09 Dr. John Smith Added
24-Jun-2018 23:29 Dr. John Smith Updated [Narrative]
26-Sep-2018 10:45 Nepa Updated [Operator, Operator]
25-Jun-2019 01:55 Dr. John Smith Updated [Source, Narrative]
25-Jun-2019 02:05 Dr. John Smith Updated [Narrative]

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