Aircraft Accident (Manchester Airport)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 21st March 1969.

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11.0 a.m.

Photo of Mr Alf Morris Mr Alf Morris , Manchester Wythenshawe

(by Private Notice)asked the President of the Board of Trade if he would make a statement about the air crash at Manchester Airport yesterday involving the deaths of three persons.

Photo of Mr William Rodgers Mr William Rodgers , Stockton-on-Tees

A Viscount aircraft, GAVJA, belonging to British Midland Airways, crashed at Manchester Airport at 16.58 B.S.T. yesterday. The aircraft was making a flight in the course of which pilot training was taking place during the take-off. The aircraft made a normal take-off and lifted off in level flight. At about 50 ft., it yawed to the right with the wings level and then started to roll to the right. When in a nearly vertical bank, it appeared to sideslip to the ground. The right wing tipped, and then the nose hit the ground. The aircraft crashed upside down. The fire and rescue services, which had been alerted because of the training exercise, extracted the three bodies from the aircraft before it caught fire. The one survivor is in hospital.

An Inspector's investigation was initiated in the early hours of this morning, and a report will be issued in due course.

I am sure that the House will wish to join with me in expresisng sympathy with the relatives and friends of those who died and also with the survivor.

Photo of Mr Alf Morris Mr Alf Morris , Manchester Wythenshawe

I join with my hon. Friend in expressing very deep sympathy with the relatives of those concerned in this second disaster in the Greater Manchester area involving a British Midland aircraft. I also share the nation's relief at the merciful survival of Miss Timson.

Is my hon. Friend satisfied that the disaster in no way reflects on the very high standards of safety and other arrangements at Manchester Airport? Is he also satisfied that what has happened—in particular, the use of this type of aircraft—does not imply any future danger for the many thousands of people living in the immediate vicinity of Manchester Airport? Finally, when does he expect the inquiry's report, and will he be asking British Midland to discontinue using or to ground some of their arcraft pending the outcome of the inquiry?

Photo of Mr William Rodgers Mr William Rodgers , Stockton-on-Tees

On present evidence, there is no reason to suppose that the arrangements at Manchester Airport are in any way defective. On the contrary, for the reasons that I mention, the fire services were alerted and took very prompt action.

As for the aircraft itself, although there have been a number of accidents to Viscounts, we should not fail to recognise that there are a very large number flying. But, obviously, if the inquiry shows that there are special factors in this case, action will be taken.

Reports take some time to prepare because of the need for extensive inquiries into the causes of accidents. But, as I think my hon. Friend knows, in the event of any information coming to light at an earlier stage, action will be taken at once, whatever it may be.

I think that it is much too soon to place the responsibility for the accident either on the aircraft or on anyone else. Here again, if the evidence shows that it is necessary to ground any aircraft, this will be done.

Photo of Mr Frederick Corfield Mr Frederick Corfield , Gloucestershire South

I know that my right hon. and hon. Friends would wish to be associated with the expressions of sympathy to the friends and relatives of those concerned, and of course, we appreciate that it is much too early to ask the hon. Gentleman to give us any real indication as to the basic causes of this accident.

Will he bear in mind the importance of making an announcement as soon as possible if it becomes clear that the aeroplane was not in itself at fault, in view of the inevitable anxiety as a result of what I think is the fourth Viscount crash within a relatively short time?

Photo of Mr William Rodgers Mr William Rodgers , Stockton-on-Tees

Yes. I think that the hon. Gentleman indicates that on these sort of occasions it cuts both ways. If there is a real cause for anxiety action must be taken, but the travelling public must know as soon as possible if there is not.

Photo of Mr Gordon Oakes Mr Gordon Oakes , Bolton West

I should like to associate myself with my hon. Friend's expresssion of sympathy to the relatives of those who were killed in the crash.

Did I understand my hon. Friend to say that this aircraft was on a training flight of take-off and landing? Does he consider it advisable that training flights of take-off and landing should be carried out at an airport in a major conurbation such as Manchester?

Photo of Mr William Rodgers Mr William Rodgers , Stockton-on-Tees

The flight as a whole was not a training flight, but an exercise in training was taking place at the time of take off. My hon. Friend raises an interesting point which I will certainly bear in mind.

Photo of Mr Jon Rankin Mr Jon Rankin , Glasgow Govan

Could my hon. Friend say whether this type of Viscount is in general passenger service? If so, will he consider it wise to ground them in the interests of safety?

Photo of Mr William Rodgers Mr William Rodgers , Stockton-on-Tees

It would be premature to jump to conclusions about what the cause of the crash may have been. This particular aircraft was built in 1958 and is Series 815. Very large numbers of them are flying in many parts of the world and have given exceedingly good service. If there is evidence of some weakness which might be common to other aircraft flying, we shall take the necessary steps. But let us not be too presumptuous at the moment, because it might make people more anxious than they need be.

Photo of Mr John Ellis Mr John Ellis , Bristol North West

Does my hon. Friend agree that a disturbing aspect of this matter is the fact that it has been widely reported that there was a message on take-off that the pilot had engine trouble? This is very disturbing, indeed. While not expecting my hon. Friend to comment at this time, will he draw this to the attention of the Inspector, because it needs looking into?

Photo of Mr William Rodgers Mr William Rodgers , Stockton-on-Tees

Yes. This certainly should be looked into. I have heard of this report that one of the engines was heard to wind down, although the pro-pellor was not seen to be feathered. This is the kind of question which will be looked into. We know that it might be due to any one of a number of causes. That is why I think we should await the Inspector's preliminary report before drawing conclusions.