Date: October, 23th 1957
Type: Vickers Viscount V.802
Registration: G-AOJA
Operator: British European Airways
Where: Nutts Corner, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland
Report No.-
Report Date: -
Pages: -

This is not an accident investigation report.

The following article is reproduced by permission of Ron Bishop editorof the "Ulster AirMail" The Journal of the Ulster Aviation Society from Volume 30, Number 8 August 1998 edition. Page: August 187/188.

Article by Peter R Myers

"Nutts Corner Crash Mystery"

The fatal crash of British European airways' Vickers V.802 Viscount G-AOJA at Nutts Corner Airport on October 23rd 1957 has remained a mystery despite and exhaustive investigation into the possible causes of the accident. The five crew and two passengers were all killed after the Viscount overshot Runway 28 in low cloud and crashed within the airport boundary.

The Viscount was on a special charter flight from Heathrow to pick up the Minister of supply, Aubrey Jones, and a party of London pressmen who had been attending the opening of a research building for Short & Harland Ltd in Belfast.

G-AOJ A (c/n 150) was the first production example of the new 802 version of the Viscount and first flew on July 27th 1956. It was delivered to BEA on February 14th 1957 and was named "Sir Samuel White Baker" after the 19th-century explorer.

On October 23rd 1957, G-AOJA took off from Heathrow at 3.16pm, bound for Nutts Comer. It was commanded by Captain Robert M.Stewart, 35, of Ruislip, Middlesex, who had completed a Viscount 802 conversion course in March 1957. His co-pilot was First Officer William G.Tompkins, 35, of Felden, Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, who had served with the RAF during the War and had been awarded the DFC.

The other crew members were Stewardess J.A.Medhurst, of Rochester, Kent; Steward E.Bebington, of Hounslow, West Middlesex, and Steward A.Hall, of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The only passengers were Mr John Galpin, who was BEA's senior sales representative in Northem Ireland, and his wife, Irene. Before Captain Stewart left Heathmw, he was told there was a cold front approaching Belfast from the north and the landing conditions to be expected at Nutts Comer would be some cloud down to 300 feet, but that improvement was likely from 4pm. As the Viscount crossed over Portaferry in Co.Down, Captain Stewart considered diverting to Dublin because of the prevailing weather conditions. The air traffic control zone coordinator and supervisor at Nutts Corner told Captain Stewart that, despite a number of bad cloud reports that aftemoon, aircraft had been becoming visual round about 500-600 feet and said it might be worth his while coming down to his critical height to see whether he could make an approach. Captain Stewart replied that he would try that.

As G-AOJA descended towards Nutts Comer, the possibility of diverting to RAF Aldergrove was also discussed but Captain Stewart said he would make an approach into Nutts Comer. At 4.39 pm, air traffic control said Captain Stewart had a "sporting chance" of becoming visual above his critical height. At about 4.45 pm, when the Viscount was at 2,200 feet and on a heading of 285 degrees, the talkdown began.

Four witnesses, who were on the ground to the right of the Viscount's approach path to the runway threshold, were the only people who saw the airliner. Only one of them mentioned that thelanding wheels were down. All four heard the Viscount "rev-up".

The crash happened at 4.51 pm. Nobody saw it but a number of people heard it. The engines were running up to the moment of impact when there was vivid flash followed by the noise of an explosion. The crash resulted in the almost complete disintegration of G-AOJA.

Mrs Elizabeth Fryers, who lived about half a mile from the airport and who later appeared as a witness at the court investigation, told newspaper reporters: "I heard an explosion and then there was a ball of flame in mid-air. At firSt 1 thought the Viscount was leaving the aerodrome because the sound of its engines was the same as when an aircraft is taking off. 1 and my son and some neighbours rushed to the scene and when we got there the wreckage was smouldering."

The accident investigators found that at the moment of impact all three of the Viscount's undercarriage units were fully retracted and locked. The court investig- ation concluded that the landing wheels were down as G-AOJA made its approach and were then retracted as the Viscount began its overshoot.

All that was recovered from the wreckage of G-AOJ A was subjected to an exh- austive examination by experts and they failed to find anything which pointed to the malfunctioning of any instrument of indicator which could have lead the pilot into a disastrous operation of the controls. Neither was there any evidence that pilot error contributed to the accident. The court investigation concluded that the crash "must remain a wholly unexplained calamity."