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There were two Hunter accidents involving Station Flight aircraft during my tour. One happened when one T7 performed a roll while airbourne. Unknown to anyone the co-pilots ejector seat had a problem where the top latch of the seat had not engaged correctly on the seat rail when the seat had been fitted. As the aircraft rolled inverted the seat slid up the rail just far enough to set part of the ejection sequence in operation. The aircraft canopy came off, the co-pilots straps automatically released and his drogue parachute operated which deployed his main parachute pulling the unfortunate co-pilot out of the aircraft. The pilot flew the aircraft back to Wattisham and landed safely with the co-pilots ejector seat still stuck halfway up the rail!  After all those years the aircraft is still flying! It's now on the civilian register and flies at various air displays.

The second Hunter accident happened to our Black ex 111 squadron T7. XL610. One morning The crew who were going to fly the Hunter met some friends who arrived by chance in a Jet Provost to refuel. After a while they all went out to their respective aircraft started up and took off.  About an hour later the RAF police arrived and quarantined the Hunter's servicing documents. They informed us the aircraft had crashed and the two pilots had been killed! Apparently the Hunter and the Jet Provost were seen in the Spalding area tail chasing each other. The Hunter which was in a tight turn went into a flat spin and crashed in a field. The Jet Provost which was from Cranwell landed safely. The accident was put down to loss of control through pilot error.
There were numerous Lightning accidents, one of the most tragic involved Flt Lt Mike Cook in 1963. In a low level aerobatic practice over the airfield, Mike and another Squadron aircraft collided during a run and break. I believe the other aircraft managed to land safely, however Mike's aircraft started to disintegrate and he had no choice but to eject over the camp area. His aircraft made a huge crater in a field near the local Red Lion pub! Mike unfortunately was tangled in his parachute rigging lines and landed heavily suffering major spinal injury.  Despite months of rehabilitation he never regained the use of his legs. Undetered in civilian life he created his own Insurance brokerage business and later created another business in Property, all due to his own determination and hard work. He passed away in 2009.
There were many people that day who were very lucky not to be injured.  I had the dubious honour of guarding the wreckage for several days while the accident investigation took place!
1960 - 1965
In the 1950's and 1960's the RAF aircraft accident rate was appalling in comparison to the service in later years. There were many reasons for this as faster more complex aircraft entered service. During my five years of service at RAF Wattisham these are just a few of the many incidents I rememember.  
On the day of this accident I was outside Station Flight which at that time occupied Secco huts and one of the two hangars on the opposite side of the airfield to the main camp. It was a quiet sunny morning and I  heard an aircraft high overhead and looked up to see a Varsity flying several thousand feet above. At the same time I saw a parachute which initially I thought had come from the Varsity, however as RAF Wattisham was a master diversion airfield I didn't think that was the case. The parachute appeared to be decending to the RAF Rattlesden area a few miles north of Wattisham. By now some of my friends had also seen the parachute and we watched it for what seemed like several minutes. Hearing a rather strange sound we saw a Vampire aircraft descending at about a 30-degree angle away from the RAF Wattisham main runway towards the nearby village of Bildesdon. Within seconds it hit a small hill, there was a loud "whumph" as it erupted in a fireball. One of my friends jumped into our Station Flight landrover and headed off for Rattlesden to try and find the parachute, while another friend and myself jumped into my car. I drove out through the airfield crash gate at the local hamlet of Nedging Tye and headed off on the Bildeston road. We very soon came to the crash site on our left and jumping out of the car we ran up a field. The aircraft had hit the top of a small hill and had effectively flown to pieces. There were numerous small fires, which we tried to put out with the help of some local farm workers who had been in an adjacent field, but our efforts were ineffective. We weren't too worried at that time as we thought the pilot had escaped. Some 25 minutes later the RAF Wattisham fire engine arrived with an officer on board. While the fires were being put out I explained what had happened to the officer and said that the pilot had ejected and our Landrover had been taken to find him. Just as I said that I noticed one of the crashed aircraft's distinctive tail fins which indicated to me that the aircraft was unfortunately a two seat Vampire T11 and there was probably a body in the vicinity. The officer ordered us to spread out and search along the field. However it wasn't until some time later when I was searching a field about 400 yards from the impact that I came upon an ejector seat in a tree. I found the unfortunate pilot's body in an adjacent cornfield. I was detailed for crash guard duties on the wreckage for several days afterward. The thing that has puzzled me over the years was why didn't the pilot eject? There seemed to be enough time, there were only isolated houses nearby and the aircraft descended with wings straight and in the final moments seemed to be under control? I was never called upon to give evidence at the subsequent inquiry despite being one of the first two airmen on the scene and actually witnessing the crash. Forty five years later I received the following information in an email.

"Vampire T11 tail number WZ472 from 5FTS at RAF Oakington near Cambridge, failed to recover from a spin and crashed 1.5.miles from RAF Wattisham on the 4th of August 1960. Student Flying Officer E Shere ejected safely. Instructor Flight Lieutenant R Garwood was killed." The memory of that accident has stayed with me to this day!

On the 10th of June 1960 there was a mid air collision between two Hunter fighters of 111 Squadrons Black Arrows display team which resulted in the death of  FL Lt Stan Wood. Display practice was an almost everyday occurrence so I wasn't taking too much notice. We had a small mobile office on our Station Flight dispersal, which we used for our aircraft documentation and I was busy sorting out an aircraft servicing log.  One of my friends watching the display practice gave a shout and as I looked up I saw an aircraft dive into the ground and explode in a fireball. It hit the ground to the North of the airfield near Eastern Radar making a large crater. Immediately there seemed to be aircraft flying in every direction. I watched as a huge smoke ring formed over the airfield and a large piece of wreckage fluttered slowly to the ground landing on the airfield close to 41 Squadrons dispersal of Javelin fighters! In the meantime I noticed two aircraft were in close formation. They circled the airfield while the rest landed then started their own approach to land. One aircraft touched down and the other climbed away for another circuit before it too landed safely.  I ran towards the perimeter track and watched as the first aircraft of the pair to land taxied past me. The Port wing was badly damaged and the Pitot tube was bent backwards over the wing. Apparently the display formation had run into to cloud at about 4000 ft, during an end of display "bomb burst" manouvre and two had touched wing tips causing one to spiral out of control. The crash wreckage was kept in our Station Flight hangar for some time and it was clearly possible to see the damage to what was left of the Starboard wing and aileron.
Number 41 Squadron operated Javelin fighters which were large lumbering fighter aircraft powered by two Armstrong Siddley Sapphire engines and usually carried Firestreak missiles. On this particular day one aircraft taxied past Station Flight on the way to take off on the main runway.  A few minutes later I heard it start its takeoff run. Seconds later I heard the engines being throttled back and looking out the window saw the Javelin run off the left side of the runway onto the grass. The Port undercarriage collapsed and the aircraft came to a halt. Everyone on Station Flight ran outside just in time to see the two crew members climb out of the cockpit and run down the wing onto the ground. Shortly afterwards they went back to the cockpit to make the ejection seats safe and retrieve their belongings. Having done this they then left the aircraft and sat on the grass about a hundred yards away to await the arrival of the fire engines. Eventually the fire engines arrived and covered the aircraft in foam although there seemed to be no fire. However a while later we saw a tiny flicker of flame and the fire crew put more foam on the aircraft. The flame got bigger and bigger, the aircrew got up from the grass and ran further away. The fire then really took hold, the firemen ran out of foam and one fire engine came to the water reservoir behind our hangar (still there today). Having mixed up more foam they returned to the aircraft. Unfortunately they had to leave rapidly when ammunition started exploding and whistling around the airfield!  Alloy castings exploded in a beautiful firework display. Oxygen cylinders, wheels and numerous other pieces of equipment exploded spectacularly. I think the ejection seats went off, but the big worry was the Firestreak missiles which as far as I remember didn't explode. It was another bright sunny day and the whole incident took around one and a half to two hours until the aircraft was completely destroyed. It was one of the few days when I didn't have a camera with me. However more than 40 years later a friend sent me these photographs!
(Courtesy of Eastern Daily Press)
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