24th December 1974
Christmas Eve plane crash at Jersey Airport
One of the last passenger planes to arrive in Jersey before the Christmas holiday had been scheduled to land at Guernsey. That plan was scrapped when it had been forced to shut down its starboard engine during the flight and diverted to Jersey as a safety precaution. This left it flying on just one engine, on only one side of the aircraft. Its starboard wingtip struck the runway on landing, the plane span through 180 degrees, broke through the airport perimeter and finally came to a halt on a public road. Remarkably, all of the 49 passengers and four crew – two in the cockpit and two in the cabin – escaped unscathed.
A warning sign
The British Island Airways flight had already been aborted once. The scheduled service from Southampton to Guernsey had been taxiing on the runway when the captain noticed that the starboard engine’s revs were lower than they should have been. He ordered the plane off the runway, the passengers were unloaded and tests were carried out on the ground. Satisfied that the engine seemed to be behaving when pushed to maximum power, he made the decision to attempt take off a second time and head for Guernsey.
The flight crew kept an eye on the engine’s readings, and everything seemed to be in order until they began their descent to Guernsey. They reduced the flow of fuel to the engines, but the starboard engine didn’t respond as it should. Indeed, the gauge showed that, if anything, the engine was consuming fuel more quickly. The crew shut it down and radioed ahead, warning Guernsey to get the emergency services on standby. When it was just five miles from the runway, the decision was made to divert to Jersey, and the plane flew to the next island at a height of just 1500 feet.
A fateful correction
Unfortunately, as the aircraft got lower and lower it also got out of line with the centre of the runway. According to the government report into the incident, “when the commander realised that he was not going to be successful in his attempt to realign the aircraft with the runway centre line he called for full power. The aircraft was now alongside the runway threshold lights. The co-pilot advanced the throttle on the port engine and believing that the commander had also called ‘overshooting’ he selected the undercarriage to retract. The aircraft began to yaw and roll rapidly to the right resulting in the starboard wing tip and starboard main wheels almost simultaneously striking the ground well to the right of the runway edge. The aircraft subsided on to the grass as the undercarriage retracted, span round to the right through approximately 180 degrees and then slid backwards until it came to rest astride a small road on the northern perimeter of the airfield.”
The Handley Page Dart Herald 203 aircraft, registration G-BBXJ, was written off, having been damaged beyond economic repair. It was just six years old.
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