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ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 211734
Last updated: 24 February 2021
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Date:27-JUL-1926
Time:15:30 LT
Type:Silhouette image of generic BALL model; specific model in this crash may look slightly different
Spencer spherical balloon Miramar 1st
Owner/operator:C G Spencer & Sons Ltd, Highbury
Registration: G-FAAM
C/n / msn:
Fatalities:Fatalities: 5 / Occupants: 6
Other fatalities:0
Aircraft damage: Written off (damaged beyond repair)
Location:Hoo Park, Kempston, Bedfordshire -   United Kingdom
Phase: Take off
Nature:Demo/Airshow/Display
Departure airport:Hoo Park, Kempston, Bedfordshire
Destination airport:
Narrative:
Spencer spherical balloon G-FAAM: C of R No L/A14 Registered May 1925 to C.G.Spencer & Sons Ltd., Highbury, London N5. Named "Miramar 1st". Written off (destroyed) 27/7/1926 when balloon envelope parted from basket, Hoo Park, Kempston, Bedfordshire. The pilot and one passenger were killed instantly. The police attended the three other casualties. However, one died on the way to hospital and two others died shortly after being admitted.

Ernest Thompson Willows (pilot, aged 40) killed
Ernest Crowsley (aged 37) killed
Mrs Flora Crowsley (aged 37) killed
William Francis Harbage (aged 34) killed
Mrs Nellie Harbage (aged 32) killed
J Lowe injured

Four of the victims were buried in Kempston parish church, with over 2,000 mourners attending the funerals on 7/8/1926. According to a contemporary newspaper report ("The Bedford Record" 3rd August 1926):

"KEMPSTON TRAGEDY
BALLOON BASKET BREAKS AWAY
FOUR KILLED AND ONE INJURED.

At 3.30 this afternoon (27 July 1926) when the amusements and attractions of Kempston Flower Show and Fete were at their height a terrible disaster occurred. The organisers of the Show had engaged one of Spenser and Son’s captive balloons to make trips carrying four passengers on each trip in the basket.

Several trips had been made, and just before the accident the balloon was up in the air at about 600 feet. The usual practice of winding in was followed at the ed of this trip by a small motor winch standing on the ground and winding in the balloon by means of a hawser. The wind, however, had freshened from the north-east as the balloon was nearing the earth. It was noticed that the effect of the pull on the hawser in conjunction with the effect of the wind on the envelope of the balloon was causing the basket to tilt dangerously. The pilot was not in the passenger basket but was sat on a seat just above them. The basket contained four adult passengers. In consequence of the basket tilting, it is believed when the balloon was about 50 feet from the ground the pilot allowed some of the gas to escape in order to effect a safer landing, but the result was that the netting supporting the basket came of the partially deflated envelope, in the words of an eye-witness, like ‘skin off a banana.’

The basket fell rapidly to earth, pitching out the four passengers and pilot. The distance was about 40 feet.
The accident took place in the full view of an enormous crowd, and the authorities promptly decided to close the proceedings.

The Luton Red Cross band played The National Anthem, and except for those who helped remove the injured people to hospital, everyone departed for home.

The Killed
Four people where killed, the names being as follows: the pilot, Mr A.T.Willows, address unknown at present; Mrs Ernest Crowsley, 270 Bedford Road; Mr W. Francis Harbage, 1 Church Walk and his wife; Mr Ernest Crowslwy lies in hospital dangerously injured.

The balloon bore in large letters the name ‘Mirarnia’ and underneath it the words ‘Royal Aero Club of Great Britain.’ The balloon was perfectly round in shape and not the usual pear shape. A parachute descent by a lady had been arranged for the evening."

In a follow up article in 1977 two eyewitnesses of the disaster provided some additional details about events that day, including the cost of a ride as being two shillings per person, and a recollection that the balloon owners were subsequently fined £100 for not having a certificate of air worthiness. Altogether a cautionary tale for fete organisers

C of R Cancelled 31.1.27.

Sources:

1. http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/wales/entries/1605fc10-f337-3a0e-ab2f-55d61d4aac59
2. http://www.rcawsey.co.uk/Acc1929.htm
3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernest_Willows
4. http://www.ab-ix.co.uk/pdfs/lighterthanairregister.pdf
5. http://kempstonlocalhistorysociety.org/early-20th-century/balloon-disaster/
6. https://www.flickr.com/photos/bedfordshirepolice/7372169822/
7. http://british-police-history.uk/forces/_b/bedfordshire_constabulary_kempston.html
8. The Argus (Melbourne, Victoria) Thursday 5 Aug 1926 Page 11: https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/3800187
9. The West Australian (Perth, WA) Friday 6 Aug 1926 Page 9: https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/31941071
10. https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/Ernest_Thompson_Willows


Revision history:

Date/timeContributorUpdates
31-May-2018 21:36 Dr. John Smith Added

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