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ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 174466
Last updated: 20 August 2020
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Type:Silhouette image of generic FFLY model; specific model in this crash may look slightly different
Fairey Firefly AS.6
Owner/operator:703 Sqn FAA RN
Registration: WB429
C/n / msn: F.8626
Fatalities:Fatalities: 2 / Occupants: 2
Other fatalities:0
Aircraft damage: Written off (damaged beyond repair)
Location:English Channel, near Littlehampton, 7 miles off Ford, West Sussex -   United Kingdom
Phase: En route
Departure airport:RNAS Ford (HMS Peregrine) Yapton, West Sussex
Destination airport:
Written off (destroyed) 9-7-1955 when crashed into sea of Littlehampton, Sussex. Aircraft was from 703 Squadron, FAA RN, based at HMS Peregrine, (RNAS Ford, Sussex) flying a Fairey Firefly on night trial, crashed into sea off Littlehampton, 7 miles off Ford, Sussex. Both crew were killed:

Lieutenant Douglas Harmer ROLLES, RN - killed on active service 9/7/55
Lieutenant Roy Frederick WEST, RN - killed on active service 9/7/55

Crash happened on night of 8-9 July 1955, hence various published sources give the crash date as 8th or 9th (not clear if the accident happened before or after midnight). However, while a report of the incident in the local newspaper provides further details, it doesn't clarify if the crash took place late at night on Friday 8/7/1955 (=before midnight) or early on the morning of Saturday 9/7/55 (=after midnight). According to the Littlehampton Gazette - Friday 15 July 1955.

An extensive nine-hour search off Littlehampton throughout Friday night and again on Saturday morning failed to trace any of the Firefly plane or the two-man crew after the aircraft crashed into the sea seven miles off Littlehampton. An official inquiry into the incident takes place today" [Friday 15 July 1955] "at the Royal Naval Air Station at Ford where the missing Firefly was based with 703 Squadron.

Samples taken from oil patches which were found in the water by men on one of the two frigates from Portsmouth which joined in the search were sent for analysis to the Admiralty laboratories to ascertain they were of aviation or ship's oil. The samples showed that they were the latter.

The crashed Firefly had gone out from Ford on night flying exercises in the Channel Island area. The pilot reported unfavourable weather conditions and was ordered back to the air station. The plane was known to be flying in cloud at 2,000 feet just before the crash.

In addition to the frigates, the Shoreham lifeboat, one of the helicopters from Ford station and air-sea rescue launches searched the area over a wide area in the hope that the pilot and his observer had been able to leave their aircraft before it dived into the sea.

An R.A.F. Shackleton from St. Eval also joined in the search in the early morning. The search was called off when all hope had gone of finding the missing airmen alive. A spokesman at Ford air station told a Littlehampton Gazette reporter that it was presumed that the plane hit the sea before either of the occupants could bale out. No wreckage had been found.

The pilot was Lieutenant Roy Frederick West, aged 28, of Chingford, Essex, and his observer was Lieutenant Douglas H. Rolles, aged 30, of Cirencester."

The body of Lieutenant Roy Frederick West was recovered, but not until November 1955 after it had been washed ashore at Kingston Gorse Beach, West Sussex. His funeral and burial was held at the Church of St. Mary at Clymping, West Sussex (near RNAS Ford) on 19/11/55. The body of Lieutenant Douglas Rolles was never found. However, a local newspaper report, records the recovery from the sea of an unknown and unidentified body of an airman (Littlehampton Gazette - Friday 18 November 1955)

The problem of identifying an airman's body washed up near Worthing Pier last Thursday was left unsolved at the end of an inquest held at Worthing police station on Friday evening.

The Coroner, Mr. F. F. Haddock, recorded a verdict of "found dead in the sea," with the cause of death multiple injuries due to an aircraft crashing in the sea. He said that from the evidence he had heard it would be only guessing try to say whose body it was.

A naval surgeon, Lieutenant-Commander Gerald Gunson R.N., stationed at Ford, said that he was present on Thursday when a post-mortem was held on the body. It was established that death was due to multiple injuries rather than drowning, and would result from an impact while the man was still in the aircraft.

The airman's clothing was of the type issued to both the R.A.F. and the Fleet Air Arm, and there was no name or other means of identification. A number 18 on the clothing was probably a store mark.

Lieutenant-Commander Gunson said the injuries were consistent with those which would be received by a pilot or observer crashing in an aircraft at high velocity. The body had probably been in the water for several months, and there had been more than one crash in the Channel recently.

The Coroner's Officer, Police-constable Jack Bateman, said he took the airman's suit to Ford and it had been examined under infra-red rays without revealing any identifying marks.

Police-constable William Pengelly said that after a phone call received at Worthing police station he went to Marine-parade on Thursday at 8.40 a.m. and saw the body floating in the sea near the Pier. It was found to be unclothed, and nearby was the lower part of an airman's suit."

While the circumstances of the recovery of this body indicate that it MAY have been the body of Lieutenant Douglas Harmer Rolles, it could not be established "beyond all reasonable doubt" that it was. Hence his headstone is marked as "An Unknown Airman, Recovered from the sea, and buried here on 16 November 1955"

He has been given the grave headstone insignia of the Royal Navy/Fleet Air Arm, so presumably there must have been enough identifying uniform to align him to this branch of The Services. There is no indication how long he had been missing for/in the sea.


1. El Litoral 10 July 1955, p1
2. Portsmouth Evening News - Saturday 9 July 1955
3. Littlehampton Gazette - Friday 15 July 1955.
4. Littlehampton Gazette - Friday 25 November 1955
5. Recovery of unidentified body: Littlehampton Gazette - Friday 18 November 1955

Revision history:

12-Mar-2015 18:38 TB Added
21-Jul-2016 21:42 Dr.John Smith Updated [Time, Operator, Location, Phase, Departure airport, Source, Narrative]
13-Nov-2018 06:58 Nepa Updated [Operator, Operator]
23-May-2020 19:28 Dr. John Smith Updated [Time, Aircraft type, Location, Departure airport, Source, Narrative]
23-May-2020 19:32 Dr. John Smith Updated [Date, Narrative]
23-May-2020 19:32 Dr. John Smith Updated [Narrative]
23-May-2020 19:41 Dr. John Smith Updated [Narrative]
25-May-2020 16:55 Dr. John Smith Updated [Narrative]
16-Jun-2020 23:02 Dr. John Smith Updated [Aircraft type, Registration, Cn, Departure airport, Source, Narrative]

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