What some people refer to as “Life’s rich tapestry” has had more knots and twists in it than usual for me of late. The biggest of which was the plane crash.
We’re used to the sounds of aircraft: if you extend the runway line of the former RAF Abingdon it passes through our village, which meant in the 1950s a stricken plane trying to land there crashed here, and in 1989 a plane taking off suffered a bird strike, crashed and skidded to a halt within sight of the same spot. The RAF moved out in the 1990s and the base is now used by the army but the RAF still take helicopters there for exercises: some days it seems like a scene from Apocalypse Now. I’ve always been interested in aviation, these days I read more accident reports than is good for me. I was in the air Cadets at school (by coincidence I did my annual camp at RAF Abingdon, and flew with the air experience flight there) I got my gliding wings; I haven’t been in glider for 20 years but I still have a fondness for them. That made Sunday seem worse.
For me it started with a sound which was somehow wrong. It was a light aircraft, not a jet, but it was here and then gone too quickly. Then there was the crash, I thought for a moment if the plane had startled my children and they’d toppled a cupboard over or something like that, but immediately my wife came in and said what it really was. Before I could get the emergency services on the phone she was back to say a glider had crashed as well. I had three thoughts. 1. Summon help, 2. See if you can help, 3. Record the scene. I grabbed a map to give the grid reference to the Ambulance service who seemed to be getting calls from everyone in the area but weren’t getting a clear idea of the location. The Police helicopter must have been nearby because it was on the scene while I was talking to them. There was a parachute in the sky and if I had thought about it I would have got someone to watch where it came down, I didn’t. I grabbed my camera and headed for the glider, which had come down in the field across the road, afraid of what I might find. One wing was broken off lying beside it, the tail was missing (we assume severed in a collision) and the nose was smashed in as if it had taken the impact. My first aid skills weren’t going to be any use – although thankfully because there was no sign of the pilot – it seemed that was him on the parachute. I took some pictures: someone was keeping people from disturbing the wreckage, so nothing I shot was going to have much value to an investigator. There was nothing I could do there. The police helicopter had landed over the road, in the field beside my house, fire engines, police cars and ambulances were arriving, the air ambulance landed close to the police helicopter. I crossed back to my house and followed the path that runs along the side of field: there’s an oilseed rape crop growing there and it’s about chest high, and all but top of the tailfin of the powered aircraft had disappeared, at a point about 150meters from my house. At first people thought that the crew had got out of this plane too. Those who’d seen it said it come down almost vertically – hence shortness of the noise – then the realization dawned that only one parachute had been seen and if that was accounted for, it could only mean the worst of all outcomes for whoever was in that plane. With no fire breaking out, and no one to rescue the Fire and Rescue service joined the police in securing the scene. An off duty policeman identified himself and went about getting names of possible witnesses. There was nothing for me to do: working on auto I shot a couple of photos of what could be seen and went indoors.
I thought someone should tell the BBC – as much as anything to tell people the roads were closed. They asked if I had pictures and I sent them one of the police chopper parked with the tailfin of the powered aircraft showing and the fire brigade wading through the crop, and another one of the glider which they used on their web site with a quote from what I had said to them: 3 other news organizations phoned me. (I’m in the phone book: it was no great detective work). I gave them the same photos: in case you’re wondering I didn’t think of asking for money and no-one offered. What I said got re-quoted by people who hadn’t spoken to me. The Mail – who phoned and asked me for the pictures credited (and I guess paid) the news agency who’d got them from me for nothing. Whoever passed the story to The Independent changed my “All you could see was the tip of the tail” to “there was metal wreckage in a field” and by the time it got to The Daily Telegraph I was supposedly describing the metal wreckage which I couldn’t see as "There were two separate heaps of it.". which there weren’t. They also credited me with counting five fire engines which I didn’t*. I feel petty for complaining about such things, given the circumstances. The BBC asked if I’d talk to them, which I did and ended up on the national evening news, and doing two bits for Radio in the morning – the chap who asked me “Are you shocked” live on air deserved withering sarcasm, but didn’t get it.
It is, to be honest, a little bit of fame I’d be happier not to have. It was the BBC camera man who told me it was an RAF training flight: it was from the same air experience flight that I had flown with all those years ago (now relocated to RAF Benson). The instructor was a local man in RAF reserve having retired from the RAF (RAF Benson has a piece detailing his great experience) and the student was an air cadet from Reading. The police – both local and RAF Police – kept the road closed for a little over 24 hours so those whose job it is could recover the bodies and the wreckage and discover what they could about how the accident unfolded, without having to worry about sight seers and souvenir hunters, and so the area could be combed for smaller bits of debris which fell away from the crash site: it seemed slightly incongruous to see the specialists from the RAF mountain rescue teams come in to do that. Their work is done now; and those of us whose lives are returning to normal will have those who are not so lucky in our minds for some while yet.
As I always say at the end of these non technology posts, I expect normal service to resume shortly.
* I do wonder what is happening to the so called quality press. If the telegraph cut and paste my name, why not what I said, and if they want to make up a quote why assign it to a real person? I’m glad I don’t have to blog anything secretly; the Times wants to “Out” anonymous bloggers even if the public interest is to hear what they say, rather than to know who they are (see Inspector Gadget is not slow to point out the Hypocrisy of the Times seeing Iranian anonymous bloggers as good. A blogger is not without honour, save in their own country).