On the 6 January 1954 WJ474, a twin-engined Vickers Valetta training aircraft of No 2 Air Navigation School Royal Air Force, crashed near RAF Bovingdon just after take off in snowy bad weather. The plane was carrying one extra passenger, despite having only 16 passenger seats. All the passengers on the flight, except for the pilot, had just played a Rugby match at RAF Halton.
The Valetta was seen to climb to about 400 feet; then, during a turn to the left, it hit a tree five miles north of the airfield and crashed near Tom’s Hill, Aldbury, on part of the estate of the Ashridge Park National Trust.
The wreckage was spread over two miles, and the combination of ice and snow on the ground and a narrow access road made rescue difficult.
The National Trust chief ranger with four of his staff was first on the scene and reported, Ten bodies were scattered about and we found two men alive. One was outside the aircraft and did not seen to be very badly hurt. The other was pulled from inside the smashed fuselage and was only semi-conscious. Two passengers were rescued, but one died in hospital later; all the others on board were killed.
An investigation was unable to establish the cause of the accident, but the extra passenger and weather at take-off did not contribute to the crash. An assumption was made that the pilot was trying to fly within sight of the ground, in conditions of poor visibility, and that in doing so he crashed into the hill.Verdicts of accidental death were returned for the sixteen victims at the coroner’s inquest held at Berkhamstead. The sole survivor, P/O P.D. Cliff, said at the inquest he could not remember anything after boarding the aircraft at Bovingdon. The coroner said that, before the aircraft departed:
Certain things were not done which should have been done. But the question of taking off was entirely a matter for the pilot to decide. For some reason height was lost – no one knowns why, no one will ever know. That caused the unfortunate crash. There was nothing wrong with the engines.
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