Stockport air disaster
G-ALHG, the accident aircraft, at Liverpool Airport, February 1965
|Date||4 June 1967|
|Aircraft type||Canadair C-4 Argonaut|
|Operator||British Midland Airways|
|Flight origin||Palma Airport, Majorca, Spain|
|Destination||Ringway Airport, Manchester, England|
The Stockport air disaster occurred on 4 June 1967, when a Canadair C-4 Argonaut passenger aircraft owned by British Midland Airways crashed in a small open area at Hopes Carr, near the centre of Stockport, Cheshire, England. Of the 84 people on board, 72 were killed, while all 12 survivors were seriously injured. The accident stands as the fourth worst disaster in British aviation history, and the third worst disaster to date to happen on English soil.
The aircraft, registered G-ALHG, had been chartered by Arrowsmith Holidays Ltd and had 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 No. 3 and 4 engines suddenly cut out over the town of Stockport. The No. 4 propeller was feathered, but No.3 kept windmilling. 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 a densely populated area, there were no fatalities on the ground. Members of the public and police risked harm to save twelve 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. Because it was a Sunday and people were not at work the accident drew a large crowd, estimated at around 10,000, hampering the rescue organisations.
Investigators with the Accidents Investigation Branch (AIB) determined that the double engine failure had been caused by fuel starvation, due to a previously unrecognised flaw in the model's fuel system. The Argonaut had eight fuel tanks, divided in pairs. Each pair fed one engine, but there was also a cross-feed system that allowed fuel from a pair of tanks to be fed to other engines, if necessary. It was found that the selectors controlling the cross-feed valves were poorly placed in the cockpit, and difficult to operate, giving also an unclear indication of what was actually selected. This could cause the inadvertent selection of cross-feed from some pairs of tanks, leading to the exhaustion of fuel in those tanks and the failure of the associated engine. These problems 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, but this only came to light four 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. Post-mortem examinations 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.
Harry Marlow, the captain, survived but had amnesia and did not remember the accident sequence, and the first officer died. The aircraft happened to be over an open area at the time the starboard engines cut out, and AIB investigators believed that it became completely uncontrollable after the loss of power. There was, however, testimony from a number of witnesses that it made a pronounced turn to port and was quickly levelled out before descending into the Hopes Carr crash site. This suggests that Marlow did exert a degree of control and successfully avoided hitting houses.
In 1998, a memorial plaque was unveiled by two survivors at the scene of the accident. It bears the legend:
IN MEMORY OF THE SEVENTY TWO PASSENGERS AND CREW WHO LOST THEIR LIVES IN THE STOCKPORT AIR DISASTER 4th JUNE 1967
In 2002 a campaign was launched to create a further memorial at the site, commemorating the 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 was unveiled in October of the same year. Its dedication reads:
This memorial is dedicated to those involved in the rescue and who gave aid at the Stockport Air Disaster 4th June 1967.
All were faced with the true horror of tragedy and did not turn away.
Their courage saved twelve lives.
A service was held in 2007 to mark the 40th anniversary. On 4th June 2017, the 50th anniversary of the crash (and also a Sunday), a service was led at the time and place of the crash by the Bishop of Stockport, Libby Lane, and new information boards were unveiled giving details of the crash and the names of those who died. Ian Barrie, an aviation expert, and Roger Boden produced a documentary, Six Miles from Home, for the fiftieth anniversary, and a book of that title was published by Steve Morrin, updating his 1998 account.
- 1950 Australian National Airways Douglas DC-4 crash
- List of accidents and incidents involving commercial aircraft
- Lashley, Brian (1 June 2007). "40 years after the Stockport air disaster". Manchester Evening News. M.E.N. Media. Retrieved 8 October 2009.
- "GINFO Database". Civil Aviation Authority.
- "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.
- "Stockport Accident Inquiry". FLIGHT International. 7 December 1967. Retrieved 5 June 2017.
- "Town to honour air disaster hero". Manchester Evening News. M.E.N. Media. 31 May 2002. Retrieved 13 October 2009.
- Mullen, Tom (4 June 2017). "Stockport air disaster: The holiday flight that ended in catastrophe". BBC.
There is evidence to suggest the pilot made efforts to steer the aircraft away from homes
- "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.
- 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.
- Six Miles from Home, by Stephen R. Morrin, 2017, ISBN 978-0-9935667-1-4.
- "Special Report". Stockport Express. 2007. Archived from the original on 28 June 2009. Retrieved 9 October 2009. - 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) from British Pathé (Record No:44382) at YouTube
- Newsreel footage of wrecked aircraft reconstruction during investigation (1967) from British Pathé (Record No:45016) at YouTube