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ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 233005
Last updated: 18 February 2020
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Date:17-FEB-1928
Time:14:24 LT
Type:Gloster Grebe Mk II
Owner/operator:25 Squadron Royal Air Force (25 Sqn RAF)
Registration: J7392
C/n / msn:
Fatalities:Fatalities: 0 / Occupants: 1
Other fatalities:1
Aircraft damage: Written off (damaged beyond repair)
Location:near Cauldham Farm, Capel-le-Ferne, near Folkestone, Kent -   United Kingdom
Phase: Combat
Nature:Military
Departure airport:RAF Hawkinge, Folkestone, Kent
Destination airport:
Narrative:
Gloster Grebe Mk.IIa J7372 and J7392, both of 25 Squadron, RAF Hawkinge were written off 17/2/1928 in a mid air collision during dogfight practice, Capel-le-Ferne, near Folkestone, Kent. Of the two pilots involved, one was killed, and the other baled out safely:

Pilot Officer Eric James Watson (aged 21) killed
Flying Officer Leonard Arthur Walsh baled out and landed by parachute safely.

Note that is had not yet been possible to discover which pilot was in which aircraft. It is therefore PRESUMED (but not confirmed) that P/O Watson was in Grebe J7372, and F/O Walsh was in Grebe J7392. (It could easily be the other way around). According to a contemporary report in the "Dover Express" - Friday 24 February 1928, which reported on the inquest into the pilot fatality:

"AIR FATALITY ON THE FOLKESTONE ROAD.
EXCITING RESCUE OF AIRMAN FROM TELEGRAPH WIRE.
DESCENTS IN PARACHUTES.
On Friday afternoon at 2.24 two Grebe aeroplanes from Hawkinge Aerodrome collided whilst at practice over Capel. One was being flown by Flight Officer Walsh and the other by Pilot Officer Watson. The wing of Watson's machine hit the tail of the other, and knocked off the tail. Both aeroplanes at once fell from a height of about 1,000 to 2,000 feet. Flight Officer Walsh left his machine and his parachute opened as he approached the ground. He was, however, falling at a very considerable pace but the ropes caught in the telegraph pole close to "Monte Video," a house some distance the Dover side of Capel St. Tho parachute fell over one side, leaving the officer suspended on the other side of the wires. Workmen at "Monte Video" climbed the pole and supported the officer until a 'bus arrived, and then the officer was pulled down by his feet till he could release himself. He was suffering from shock and was taken to the "Royal Oak." The other officer met with fatal injury. He also got out of his machine and was found some distance from it with the parachute open, but seriously injured, and he died an hour later at Shorncliffe Hospital. The two machines fell in close proximity to Cauldham Farm. One was smashed to pieces and the other burnt completely. The tail, which was hit, fell 300 yards away, close to Cauldham Farm.

The inquest was held at Hawkinge Aerodrome on Monday afternoon by Mr. Rutley Mowll. Flight Lieutenant Gilbert Harcourt Smith, of Hawkinge Aerodrome, said that Pilot Officer Watson was accustomed to flying the Gloucester-Grebe single seater fighting machine which he was piloting at the time the accident. The machine was in good order. He had examined the parachute after the accident. It was torn throughout the length of one seam. In making a parachute descent from an aircraft it was necessary to be quite clear of the aircraft before opening the parachute. It was possible this officer was not clear when he pulled his rip cord and the parachute was caught on some part of the machine and torn. That was his view of what happened. When a man was descending by parachute from his aircraft there was a moment when he had nothing to hold on to. He should fall through space for 10 seconds before pulling the cord. Actually he was taught to count. Another possible solution was that Pilot Officer Watson did not make use of his parachute quickly enough. From 150 ft. to 200 ft. were required for a parachute to operate and slow the man. The machine did not catch fire until after its impact with the ground.

Flying Officer Leonard Arthur Walsh said: On Friday afternoon I told Pilot Officer Watson to do individual combat with me. I was his senior. We both went up and practised getting into position. He was in theory to try to hit. When we were just over 2,000 ft. up he attacked me three times. After that he broke away, and I saw him about a mile away from me. To enable him to catch me I throttled my engine back to 1,000 revolutions and flew straight and level towards Dover. The next thing, I looked round and saw a pair of planes in a vertical bank turning into me on the starboard side. Then I felt the impact and my machine went out of control. My wings were not damaged but the tail of my plane was cut off. When I realised the position I did my best to get out of the seat in my machine. I succeeded. When I got out of the machine I counted eight and then pulled my rip cord. My parachute immediately opened and acted well. Owing to the strong north wind I was blown towards the sea. By "spilling" air, however I managed to come down on some telegraph wires some 20 yards from the edge of the cliff on the main Dover-Folkestone road. A civilian helped me down to the road.

He thought, personally, that Pilot Officer Watson could not have seen him when he turned. In the course of these manoeuvres the attacking officer could approach from any side he liked. The rule for avoiding collisions was that the attacking man dropped behind.

Alfred Charles Aird, a dairy farmer, of "The Valiant Sailor" Hotel, said he was on a cornstack in the yard when the accident happened. "My attention was called to it by the noise of the impact. I saw Mr. Walsh leave his machine with his parachute. Mr. Watson's machine appeared to be trying to bank as if to right itself. It was unable to do so, and fell spirally to the ground, bursting into flames when it landed."

Stephen Madgen, a threshing machine feeder, who saw the accident from Mr. Aird's farm, said he saw Mr. Watson jump out of his machine when it was about 150 feet above the ground. "I saw nothing of the parachute then," he continued. "But when I went to render assistance I found part of the silk of the parachute was out of the bag on Mr. Watson's back. I pulled the rest of it out and put it under his head as a bolster. He was unconscious."

Henry Thomas Haton, Capel-le-Ferne. said he was ploughing when he saw Mr. Watson's machine crash and burst into flames. "I rushed across to it and looked to see there was anyone in it. The cracking, snapping, and burning of the machine worried me and air bullets were flying all around me." A police officer placed on the coroner's desk several bullets which, he said, were picked up near the machine. Mr. Mowll: It was rather different from the peacefulness of ploughing? Hatton said it was, and added that, protecting his face as well as he could with his jacket, he went to Pilot Officer Watson.

Flight-Lieutenant Smith, recalled, said there might be ammunition the machine.

Daniel Henley, works manager, of "The Vale." Folkestone, said that after the accident Pilot Officer Watson's parachute was open, streaming out on the ground behind him.

Mr. Mowll (to Flight-Lieutenant Smith): I suppose parachutes have proved invaluable saving lives? Yes, sir, we have had very few failures.

And every officer who flies is trained in the art of opening his parachute? Yes, he has at least "one drop."

Mr. Wheeler: Did Watson have a practice drop? Flight-Lieutenant Smith, after consulting Pilot Officer Watson's log book, said: "He may have had one at Cranwell before came here eight months ago, but there is no record of it in his log book, and there should be if he had one. It is, however, purely voluntary. Most officers are encouraged to do it."

The jury returned a verdict of "Death by Misadventure," and expressed sympathy with Mr. Watson's relatives."

Sources:

1. http://www.rcawsey.co.uk/Acc1929.htm
2. http://www.rafcommands.com/forum/showthread.php?17344-RAF-fatalities-1928
3. https://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/view/1928/1928%20-%200138.html?search=Peter%20John%20Basil%20Chalmers
4. http://www.hambo.org/lancing/view_man.php?id=359
5. http://sussexhistoryforum.co.uk/index.php?topic=1194.0


Revision history:

Date/timeContributorUpdates
17-Feb-2020 03:12 Dr. John Smith Added
17-Feb-2020 03:12 Dr. John Smith Updated [Narrative]
18-Feb-2020 11:46 Iwosh Updated [Operator, Operator]

Corrections or additions? ... Edit this accident description