The Dakota DC3 ( G-AGZB ), was on a scheduled Channel Air Services flight from Guernsey with stops at Jersey, Portsmouth and Southend. The crash seems to have occurred after a number of unfortunate circumstances seemed to have dogged the plane that day.
The flight crew of (Zulu Bravo) were the actually the standby crew and had not flown together prior to this flight although both had considerable separate experience. During the first legs of the journey form Southend they had already had to divert directly to the Channel Islands as Portsmouth was fogged in so Guernsey was there next destination.
They had already attempted instrument landings at Portsmouth which had to be aborted, so the decision to fly low under the weather was there only other way forward and thus try to make a visual approach. This was all in the days prior to ground approach radar systems as used today.
Zulu Bravo arrived at Guernsey without any mishaps and began to load passengers and freight for their next hop to Jersey where they landed at 12,25pm without any issues. Also sitting on the tarmac was another Channel Islands aircraft flown by the chief pilot of the airline, he was also waiting to fly to Portsmouth but had been held up due to bad weather. It was Zulu Bravos' job to take some of the now overbooked passengers from this original flight and carry them back to Portsmouth.
Whilst passengers were being shuffled between planes for the return flights to Portsmouth there ensued apparently a rather heated argument between the chief pilot and the other officers as to the safety of trying to get back into Portsmouth with such conditions. The airline and chief pilot were trying it appears to keep things on time so great pressure was in play for the captain of Zulu Bravo to maintain the schedule as best as possible. However he we reluctant to try again for Portsmouth due to the earlier aborted attempt.
Unscheduled diversions always tended to cause friction and stress, added to this the company apparently required the crew to attempt at least one approach prior to calling for a diversion so it was nearly impossible for crews to divert prior to trying for themselves at least once..
So without further delay the decision was taken to try for Portsmouth, these arguments all had an effect as time had passed by thus a further delay to the schedule had already taken place,causing greater stress. Zule Bravo took off at 13.54 and climbed to 3000 feet passing by Alderney at 14.07 in good reasonably weather an at 14.14hrs reported their position using dead reckoning. At this stage they hit mid cloud and dropped down to sea level to see if they could go under it, however they met with drizzle and mist with very foggy patches. The idea here was to try and fly low under the ceiling and find the Solent corridor and fly along it and then turn into Portsmouth for the approach using visual markers as an assist, All along the Captain was rather upset having to do this, especially after the earlier aborted landing at Portsmouth but as we have already conveyed the pressure was on to deliver the clients who had already been badly delayed due to the previous bad weather. so he was obliged to try,
14.16 Zulu Bravo found itself on the deck after gaining permission to fly at 1000ft from London Air Traffic Control, their plan was to steadily creep along and make landfall at the Southern tip of the Isle of Wight and then follow up the coast to the Solent and then home. What happened next was a mixture of bad luck and assumption as the visibility must have closed up and stronger than anticipated tail winds forced the aircraft position to be misinterpreted by a fairly substantial factor. It is assumed that the Captain thought he was 5 to 6 miles off when in fact he was in dense cloud at 1000ft and far closer to the Island than he should have been.
Although the aircraft was fitted with navigational aids, it appears when flying at this level they were very unreliable especially as the "TI" transmitter at this point of the flight was being masked by the Islands land mass, giving more than likely incorrect information to the crew. Thus the Captain and crew were only really flying by the seat of his pants at this stage, looking through the window hoping to see landfall. The next conjecture is that Bravo Zulu by a complete fluke was now actually flying up a valley just above Ventnor which to the crew may well have mistaken as Landfall to the West and thus then turned to what they thought was Sandown Bay and so simply creep up the coastline to Portsmouth. Unfortunatly the fog was so very thick and they were now flying directly into St Boniface Down, it was reported taht they were so close to missing it but needed another 150 feet!.
Suddenly the engines were heard to go to maximum power but it was too late, the captain tried to bank with no luck, saw the inevitable was about to happen and killed the engines in an attempt to level out for a crash landing. Sadly Zulu Bravo crashes at the top of St Boniface narrowly missing an old radar tower, crashing and skidding through the gorse, hitting a radar building gorging a long crator 100yds long and comes to rest on the access road to the Down. Luckily the Captain had killed the engines, fuel was not pumping and much of the aircraft had stayed in one piece as it had not cartwheeled or broken up too badly, but a fire then ensued .
Conditions locally were very bad, a local contingent of Civil Defence volunteers not 250 yds. away were unaware of the crash and had it not been for a local man 'Ted Price' who had been working locally would not have known anything. They then managed to raise the alarm, Ted by this time was already back at crash site and dived into the wreckage and pulled out several of the survivors which were subsequently taken to Hospital at Ryde.
The subsequent enquiry is really a mixed bag of possible reasons to why the crash happened, pilot error, weather conditions, technical failure, pressure to perform all must have played a part, but what can be said is that lady luck was not on-board flight Zulu Bravo to Portsmouth on this fateful day 50 years ago,