Stockport air disaster
|Date||4 June 1967|
|Summary||Fuel starvation due to a leaky valve caused by design error|
|Aircraft type||Canadair C-4 Argonaut|
|Operator||British Midland Airways|
|Flight origin||Palma Airport|
The Stockport air disaster was the crash of a Canadair C-4 Argonaut aircraft owned by British Midland Airways, registration G-ALHG, in a small open area at Hopes Carr near the centre of Stockport, Greater Manchester, England on Sunday 4 June 1967. 72 of the 84 aboard were killed in the accident. Of the 12 survivors, all were seriously injured. It currently stands as the fourth worst disaster in British aviation history.
The aircraft, which had been chartered by Arrowsmith Holidays Ltd, left Palma de Mallorca at 5:00 am, carrying holidaymakers back from the Balearic Islands to Manchester Airport. The approach controller vectored it towards the ILS as soon as it reached the Congleton NDB, but the pilots were apparently unable to put the aircraft on the extended runway centreline and called an overshoot. As the aircraft was making a second approach to the airport, the Nos. 3 and 4 engines suddenly cut out over the town of Stockport and the No. 4 propeller began to windmill. The aircraft became uncontrollable and crashed at 10:09 am local time in an open area between buildings close to the town centre. Despite the crash occurring in an overwhelmingly urban area, there were no fatalities on the ground. Members of the public and police risked harm to save 12 people from the mangled debris, but within minutes the wreckage was entirely engulfed in flames, killing those remaining on board who had survived the impact. The accident drew a large crowd, estimated at around 10,000 hampering the rescue organizations.
Investigators with the Accidents Investigation Branch (AIB) determined that the aircraft had run out of fuel because of a previously unrecognised flaw in the model's fuel system. The Argonaut has eight fuel tanks connected in pairs by selector valves. Each pair of tanks feeds one engine, but there is also a cross-feed system whereby fuel from any pair of tanks can be routed through the system if necessary. It was found that if the selector valves in the cross-feed system were a few degrees off the normal "off" setting, fuel could inadvertently bleed through the valves. This could make one pair of tanks empty completely in flight, and the engine fed by the empty tanks would stop. The selectors were designed to "click" when they were set correctly, but the click could not be heard unless the pilot leaned forward in his seat, an impossibility, as Argonaut pilots had to wear snug shoulder harnesses during flight. This tendency had been noticed by pilots of other Argonauts before, but neither British Midland nor the other airlines using the Argonaut (Trans-Canada Airlines and Canadian Pacific Airlines) had reported it to the manufacturer or to British Midland. Without this information, the AIB believed that it would have been extremely difficult for the pilots of G-ALHG to determine the exact nature of the emergency.
A fuel problem had been noted on the aircraft five days earlier, this only came to light 4 months after the crash. A third contributory factor was tiredness: the Captain had been on duty for nearly 13 hours. This was within legal and operational limits but the inquiry noted that he had made several errors in repeating ATC messages.
The AIB also examined passenger and crew survivability during the accident. Autopsies on the passengers showed that those in the very front of the fuselage had been killed by rapid deceleration injuries, but those further aft had suffered massive crushing injuries to their lower legs that stopped them from escaping the burning wreckage. Investigators found that the bracing bars meant to keep the rows of seats separate were too weak to stop the rows from collapsing together like a concertina, and determined that had the bars been adequately strong, most of the passengers would have been able to escape the aircraft.
News reports stated that the pilot chose to crash in an open area, but the AIB found no evidence to support this belief. The aircraft happened to be over an open area at the time the starboard engines cut out, and AIB investigators believed that the aircraft was completely uncontrollable after the loss of power. The captain, who survived, did not remember the accident sequence, and the first officer died. A number of witnesses to the final seconds aloft of the aircraft claim to have seen the aircraft make a very pronounced turn to port and was quickly levelled out before descending into the Hopes Carr crash site. This strongly suggests that although struggling to control the aircraft at critically slow speed Captain Harry Marlow did exert a degree of control and probably put the aircraft down into open space, albeit an extremely small one. The AIB inquiry cleared Captain Marlow of all blame.
Legacy of the accident
In 1998 a memorial plaque was unveiled (by two survivors) at the scene of the accident. It bears the legend:
SEVENTY TWO PASSENGERS
WHO LOST THEIR LIVES
STOCKPORT AIR DISASTER
4th JUNE 1967
In 2002 a campaign was launched to create a further memorial at the site, commemorating rescuers who risked their lives to pull survivors from the burning aeroplane; the campaign was supported by the then Prime Minister Tony Blair. The second memorial, dedicated to the rescuers, was unveiled in October 2002. Both memorials will be moved a short distance under current plans to redevelop the site. The regeneration project will include 375 apartments, workshops, retail and office space and a new public square. The memorials, currently on the corner of Hopes Carr and Waterloo Road, would be moved to a site overlooking Hempshaw Valley.
- List of accidents and incidents on commercial airliners
- Air safety
- 1950 Australian National Airways Douglas DC-4 crash
||This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (October 2009)|
- Lashley, Brian (1 June 2007). "40 years after the Stockport air disaster". Manchester Evening News (M.E.N. Media). Retrieved 8 October 2009.
- "Stockport air crash". BBC. 28 October 2002. Retrieved 13 October 2009.
- Maher, Paul (6 June 2007). "The blackest day in town's recent history". Stockport Express (M.E.N. Media). Retrieved 8 October 2009.
- Flight p936
- Flight p935
- "Town to honour air disaster hero". Manchester Evening News (M.E.N. Media). 31 May 2002. Retrieved 13 October 2009.
- "PM backs air disaster campaign". Stockport Express (M.E.N. Media). 3 April 2002. Retrieved 9 October 2009.
- "Why we fought for memorials ... and why the PM backed us". Stockport Express (M.E.N. Media). 6 June 2007. Retrieved 9 October 2009.
- Maher, Paul (10 May 2006). "Fury at council plans for crash site". Stockport Express (M.E.N. Media). Retrieved 9 October 2009.
- "What does future hold for crash site?". Stockport Express (M.E.N. Media). 6 June 2007. Retrieved 9 October 2009.
- "Stockport Accident Inquiry" Flight International 7 December 1967
- "Accident Repercussions" Flight International, 15 June 1967
- Air Disaster, Vol. 4: The Propeller Era, by Macarthur Job, Aerospace Publications Pty. Ltd. (Australia), 2001 ISBN 1-875671-48-X, pp. 154–169.
- The Day the Sky Fell Down: The Story of the Stockport Air Disaster, by Stephen R. Morrin, 1998, ISBN 0-9534503-0-9.
- "Special Report". Stockport Express. 2007. Retrieved 9 October 2009.[dead link] - 40th anniversary articles about the accident
- "Stockport Air Disaster". BBC Inside Out. BBC. 28 October 2002. Retrieved 21 April 2008. "A new generation are learning how these long-forgotten heroes played a courageous role in Cheshire's darkest day."
- Accident description at the Aviation Safety Network
- Names of passengers and crew. Retrieved 9 October 2009.
- Newsreel footage of crash site (1967) courtesy of British Pathe (Record No:44382) at YouTube (requires Adobe Flash)
- Newsreel footage of wrecked aircraft reconstruction during investigation (1967) courtesy of British Pathe (Record No:45016) at YouTube (requires Adobe Flash)