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1962 Channel Airways Dakota accident

REF NR: 2115

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 due to a number of unfortunate circumstances that dogged the plane that day.

Both flight crew members of 'Zulu Bravo' were actually the standby crew and had not flown together prior to this flight, although they did considerable separate experience. During the first legs of the journey from 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 attempted instrument landings at Portsmouth which had to be aborted, so the decision to fly low under the weather was their only other way forward - thus a visual approach was attempted. 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 Bravo's job to take some of the now overbooked passengers from this original flight and carry them back to Portsmouth.

It's been reported that whilst passengers were being shuffled between planes for the return flights to Portsmouth, a rather heated argument ensued between the chief pilot and the other officers regarding the safety of getting back into Portsmouth in such conditions. It appears the airline and chief pilot were pushing to keep things on time, resulting in significant pressure for the captain of Zulu Bravo to maintain the schedule. However he was reluctant to try again for Portsmouth, due to the earlier aborted attempt.

Unscheduled diversions always tended to cause friction and stress. Added to this was the fact that the company apparently required the crew to attempt at least one approach prior to calling for a diversion, meaning it was nearly impossible for crews to divert prior to trying for themselves at least once.


Without further delay, the decision was taken to try for Portsmouth. However, the previous arguments had only added to the combined delay time. Zulu Bravo took off at 13:54 and climbed to 3,000 feet passing by Alderney at 14:07 in reasonably good weather. At 14:14hrs they 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. They met, unfortunately, 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, then turn into Portsmouth for the approach using visual markers as an assist. The captain was anxious about this entire process. His concerns were heightened by the earlier aborted landing at Portsmouth - but he was obliged to try and deliver the clients, who had already been severely delayed due to the previous bad weather.



Flight Plan

At 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.

It appears that flying at this level made the aircrafts navigational aids very unreliable, as the "TI" transmitter at this point of the flight was being masked by the island's land mass - most likely giving incorrect information to the crew. Thus the captain and crew were really only flying by the seat of their 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 the crew may well have mistaken as landfall to the west and thus then turned to what they thought was Sandown Bay in order to simply creep up the coastline to Portsmouth. Unfortunately the fog was incredibly thick and in actuality they were now flying directly into St Boniface Down. It was reported that if they were 150 feet higher they would've missed it.

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. Zulu Bravo crashed at the top of St Boniface, narrowly missing an old radar tower, skidding through the gorse, hitting a radar building gorging a crater 100 yds long and came to rest on the access road to the down. The captain's last act of killing the engines meant that 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 contingent of Civil Defence volunteers less than 250 yds away were unaware of the crash and had it not been for a man called Ted Price, who had been working close by, response to the crash would have been much slower. Having raised the alarm, Ted returned to the crash site, dived into the wreckage and pulled out several of the survivors who were subsequently taken to the hospital in Ryde.

The subsequent enquiry is a mixed bag of possible reasons as to why the crash happened. Pilot error, weather conditions, technical failure, pressure to perform all must have played a part. It's also clear that lady luck was not on-board flight Zulu Bravo to Portsmouth on this fateful day 50 years ago,