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ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 218708
Last updated: 24 May 2019
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Date:31-JAN-1916
Time:night
Type:Silhouette image of generic be2 model; specific model in this crash may look slightly different
Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2c
Owner/operator:11 (Reserve) Sqn RFC
Registration: 2091
C/n / msn:
Fatalities:Fatalities: 1 / Occupants: 1
Other fatalities:0
Aircraft damage: Written off (damaged beyond repair)
Location:near Northolt, Ruislip, Middlesex -   United Kingdom
Phase: Approach
Nature:Military
Departure airport:RFC Northolt, Ruislip, Middlesex
Destination airport:RFC Northolt, Ruislip, Middlesex
Narrative:
31.1.16: Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2c No.2091, 11 (Reserve) Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, RFC Northolt. Written off (destroyed) when hit tree at night and caught fire, near Northolt, Ruislip, Middlesex. Pilot - Major Leslie da Costa Penn-Gaskell (aged 34) died 4.2.16 (four days later) of injuries sustained. According to a contemporary report in Flight magazine (August 17 1916 page 698 - see link #5) the incident was debated in the House of Commons in Parliament. According to "Hansard" the official record of Parliamentary debates:

"Closely connected with the last case is that of Major Penh Gaskell. This was not an instance brought forward directly by Mr. Pemberton Billing, but was referred to, in a letter read by him to the Committee. The unknown writer of the letter says :"Major Penn Gaskell, Squadron Commander at Ruislip, received an order to send an airman up as they expected a Zeppelin visit. He telephoned back that it was foggy and that it would be suicidal for anyone to go up.

The War Office replied insisting on someone going up. Major Penn Gaskell said he would go up himself and that he knew he was going to his death, and like a true hero went up. It was so dark that he ran into a tree. His petrol tank burst and he was burnt to death, but he lived long enough to say he never expected to come down alive. He was a skilled man lately returned from the Front, and was beloved by all."

The facts are:
The date was January 31st, 1916. The place was Northolt. The machine was a B.E. 2C. The weather conditions were the same as in Major Unwin's case i.e., a low mist. The orders were to go up if the weather permitted. It was the turn of Captain Sampson to go up, but Major Penn Gaskell told him not to go, and that he (the Major) would have a "chucker" round. He, too, like Major Unwin, caught a tree in descending. The tree was some three-quarters of a mile away from the landing ground. The machine caught fire. The glow could be seen from the landing ground. Major Penn Gaskell was extricated, but afterwards died. He was a most experienced night flier.

The landing ground was. properly lighted. Major Penn Gaskell made no protest. He did not refer to the danger of going up and say that he was going to his death. He said he would have a " chucker " round to see if it was any use sending airmen up. The Northolt ground is large with a good surface, and safe.

The cases of Major Penn Gaskell and Major Unwin call for special mention. Both accidents happened on the night of January 31st last. A Zeppelin raid was anticipated over London. The night was foggy. Orders were issued to the aerodrome at Northolt and Joyce Green that aeroplanes were to go up "if the weather conditions were favourable." It was not the duty of either of those gentlemen to go up himself. The conditions were unfavourable. No one could have blamed them if they had reported that it was impossible to fly. They determined, that machines should go up, but as the risks were great each of them went up himself rather than send up a pilot as in normal circumstances he would have done. In each case this self-sacrificing devotion cost the officer his life."

Penn-Gaskill had transferred to the RFC in March 1914, having been in the reserve, and having passed his flying certificate back in October 1912. He had originally been with the Norfolk Regiment. At the outbreak of war he was with 5 Squadron and travelled to France. He became a Flight Commander (and Temporary Captain) in April 1915 and shortly afterwards was posted to 9 Squadron. In October 1915 he returned to England as a Flight Commander with 10 Reserve Squadron. He had only been appointed Squadron Commander of 11 (Reserve) Squadron and Temporary Major on the day of his crash."

Sources:

1. http://www.rcawsey.co.uk/Acc1916.htm
2. https://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/388232/penn-gaskell,-leslie-da-costa/
3. https://airwar19141918.wordpress.com/tag/leslie-da-costa-penn-gaskell/
4. https://www.iwm.org.uk/memorials/item/memorial/47525
5. Flight magazine (August 17 1916 page 698): https://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/view/1916/1916%20-%200700.html


Revision history:

Date/timeContributorUpdates
28-Nov-2018 19:28 Dr.John Smith Added
01-Dec-2018 23:06 Dr.John Smith Updated [Source, Narrative]
01-Dec-2018 23:07 Dr.John Smith Updated [Narrative]
15-Dec-2018 17:30 Nepa Updated [Operator, Operator]

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