RAF’s worst peacetime air disaster Hastings TG577

Tragic Hastings air crash 6th July 1965

The afternoon was beautiful and sunny and we were loading aggregate into concrete mixers,suddenly behind us to the north there was the sound of a very large explosion, looking to the direction of the sound we saw a colossal fire ball and then a black mushroom cloud emanating from the area of Nuneham Courtney. I immediately shouted to my brother Terry I am sure that was a plane crash; we did no more than jump into my brothers old American jeep on the way collecting tools that might be useful. I still remember grabbing a large sledge hammer hoping we could use it to save lives, but it was to no avail.

We careered along the old bridleway running behind the works at Drayton-St-Leonard with Terry driving as though possessed, then continuing along the ancient Roman Road to Jack Barclays farm at Little Baldon. The distance travelled from the works to the crash site was 1.6 miles and journey time about 6 minutes.

On arriving at the field known as 100 Acres we realised very quickly there were no survivors, the Hastings aircraft had crashed on its back, the flames and heat was so intense it is difficult to imagine how terrible it was to believe 41young men had just died in that inferno.  The memory seared into my mind is of bodies but one in particular, a torso with a blue RAF uniform, epaulettes on the shoulder and severed head with black hair covered in blood.

Standing at the crash site with Terry my brother both of us in shock, just grieving at the terrible loss of life and feeling so completely helpless, a memory I will never forget, and always remembered on Reme`mbrance Sunday. 

On a late summers afternoon, the Handley Page Hastings TG577 left Abingdon on a training parachute jump for Weston-on-The Green.  The Hastings was flying over Berinsfield fairly low, weaving side to side then climbing nearly vertical out of control, it was then seen to fall with all four engines running, crashing on to its back, bursting into flames in a barley field named 100 Acres at Little Baldon Oxon.

Arthur Ware and George Powell a foreman at Barclay farms were the first on the scene, in a statement said ” wreckage was scattered all over the place, I saw many bodies,some of the men looked as though they had tried to jump. I saw collapsed parachutes with cords at full stretch, there was nothing we could do for anyone.”

Within a few days the fleet of 80 Hastings were grounded. Days after the crash, RAF engineers stripped the crashed Hastings tail section and found broken elevator bolts due to metal fatigue,this was not the first case of failing elevator bolts, subsequent checks found a further three failures. Within 2 years all Hastings were taken out of service and replaced by Lockheed Hurcules.

Looking back over the years I do wonder whether the families left behind were treated with generosity for the sacrifice they made. Secondly I live with hope for the 41 lost lives when I remember the five remaining lines of the poem. High Flight by John Gillespie Magee jr.

            I`ve topped the wind swept heights with easy grace,

            Where never Lark or even Eagle flew,

            And,while with silent lifting mind I`ve Trod,

            The high untrespassed sanctity of space,

             Put out my hand and touched the face of God.