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A plane crash at Denham

Rank Laboratories Denham 1967 Movietone

In the early sixties, when I was Assignments Manager with Movietonews, we had offices within Rank Laboratories. I had my desk with its left side against the outer wall of the office, so that the window sill, which ran the full length of the office were at my shoulder height when seated at the desk.  My two telephones were kept on the window sill, mainly to give me more room on my desk.  Sometimes, for relaxation, I would stand looking out over the Colne Valley and Harefield in the distance while I made a phone call.  Having got through, I would sit down.

On this day, there was something else to look at.  A Light aircraft, probably a Cessna, was doing what the flying fraternity call “Circuits and Bumps”.  With Denham Airfield a few hundred yards away to the west, the aircraft would fly round at very low level, come in as if to land, touch the runway and, immediately, take off again.   He would do this continually for half and hour or so.

I picked up the phone while looking at the aircraft pass almost level with me on the first floor.  Suddenly his left wing dipped quickly and I started dialling 999 before he hit the ground over to my left.

The operator asked me which service I wanted and I said “All three”.  It must have been one of the quickest 999 calls in history.  I actually finished dialling within seconds of the plane crashing.

In my rather large office was a new colleague, Lloyd Fraser – a commentary writer on COI productions, he did not actually see the plane, but heard me and he dashed off to the end of the corridor where he ran down the fire escape and across to the site of the crash.  What confronted him there was that the plane had gone into one of the “pools” which were set in a light wooded area.  He stripped off and dived in, looking for the pilot.   The body of the pilot, Capt. Guy Robson, was recovered some hours later.  One of the cameramen went down with a camera – it features in the story “Eyes on the World” from March 1963.

Shortly after, the rescue teams arrived.  Our man was taken in another ambulance to check him over.  The problem for him was that the pools were stench pools where the contaminated water from the laboratory developing tanks could run off safely, so as not to get into either the sewage or the river.

People were worried that he might have swallowed some of the chemical mixture.

He was the local hero and was congratulated by all when he returned to work.

Some days later, a policeman came to see me.  It was I who had dialled 999.  He said that other people on the other side of the valley had called in.  His question to me was “Did the engine cut out before the crash”.  I said “No, if anything it revved up, dipped its left wing and went into the ground“.

He came back a week later to round off the story.  People on the other side of the valley said that the engine did cut out. However, he said that I was right and they were wrong.  It appears that the pilot, Capt. Guy Robson, was a B.O.A.C pilot in his mid fifties and he had a heart attack while flying and was dead by the time the aircraft hit the water.

He would only have had to deviate a touch to his left to finish up in my window.

© Terence Gallacher and, 2012.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Terence Gallacher and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Was that a news-man’s instinct to start dialling emergency and your colleague to start running or what? and had the pilot not had a heart attack, his chance of survival was made that much greater because of it. This story screams for some answers. Name of colleague/hero, name of pilot and did he ‘rev up’ and dip the wing to avoid something worse. In the early 80’s I spent many an hour flying circuits and bumps in an out of Denham Aerodrome in a Cessna and remember the ponds and lakes very well and on final approach you have little time to make the right decision.

    Many Thanks

    August 19, 2012
    • Thanks Colin, since your comment I’ve discovered the name of the colleague, Lloyd Fraser and the name of the pilot, Capt. Guy Robson – it features in a Movietone News story called Eyes of the World, from March 1963. So I’ve amended the article.

      August 19, 2012

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