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Author Topic: Fatal collision over Tilmanstone, July 1939  (Read 842 times)
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« on: December 19, 2012, 17:17:30 PM »

Dover Express - Friday 28 July 1939

Three men — two of them volunteer members of the air defence of the country — lost their lives in a tragic air crash at Tilmanstone on Friday. It appears that two machines collided in mid-air and as they fell into a cornfield near Beeches Wood, the three occupants were killed instantly. The dead men were Keith Kendle Brown (38), of St. Michaels, Castle Road, Hythe, the chief instructor of the Kent Flying Club, Bekesbourne, Donovan William Alan Pragnell (44) of St. Martin's, Stodmarsh Road, Canterbury a member of the Civil Air Guard, who was receiving flying tuition from Mr. Brown in a Gipsy II Moth, and David Curig Lewis (21) an Oxford undergraduate, of Porthkerry, near Barry, Glamorgan, a pilot officer in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, the sole occupant of the other aeroplane, a Hawker Hind,

The Deputy East Kent Coroner (Mr. A. K. Mowll) opened the inquest at Eastry Institution on Saturday afternoon and after taking evidence of identification and medical evidence, adjourned the inquiry for a week. Mr. J. H. Bermingham Young appeared for Pragnell's relatives. The jury comprised Messrs. F. M. Tordiff (foreman), A. V. Lister, J. Betts, S. Voysden, F. A. Butcher, A. P. Burton, G. L. Page, A. W. Cook and H. S. Couchman. The Coroner said that as the evidence had not been completed he proposed only to call evidence of identity and the doctor. He would like, at once, to express his sympathy, and, he was certain, the sympathy of everybody in the Court, in the terrible tragedy. One of the deceased was a client of his and well-known to him, and it was a great shock when he heard of his sudden death.

It appeared that a collision occurred in mid-air over a cornfield adjoining Beeches Wood, Tilmanstone, between a Hind aeroplane, piloted by Lewis, who was in camp at Lympne, and a Gipsy Moth, flown by Brown. Of what flying experience Lewis had he (the Coroner) had at the moment no information. Brown was a flying instructor of the Kent Flying Club at the Canterbury Aerodrome, Bekesbourne, and was, he expected, a man of very considerable experience and had in his machine the other deceased man, Pragnell. These two machines came into contact over Tilmanstone, with the result that both the machines crashed to the ground and all three occupants were immediately killed. According to the report the Gipsy Moth aeroplane, when it crashed, was minus the engine, which was carried about 200 yards from the machine, and the Hind was minus the tail. The pilot of the Hind was found about 20 yards from the wreckage of his machine, whereas the tail of the aeroplane fell in a cornfield about 50 yards beyond the Gipsy Moth. Both aeroplanes were totally wrecked. So it looked as if the tail of one machine came into contact with the other. They would have further evidence with regard to that. They should remember that those inquiries were for two purposes, first to find out the cause of death and the other to find out whether anybody was flying so carelessly or so recklessly as to be the means of the death of the other persons. But, of course, when the three persons had been unfortunately killed that could not worry them at all and it was not part of their work his to decide anything in regard to the liability that would in course arise in the civil courts as to whether both aeroplanes were to blame or only one.

Alexander Robert Ramsay, of Woodlands Cottage, Adisham, Manager of Air Sales and Service, Ltd., proprietors of the Kent Flying Club, Bekesbourne, identified the body of Brown, who was the chief instructor of the Club. He had previously been chief instructor at the Cinque Ports Flying Club, Lympne, and before that he was a flying officer in the R.A.F. He was a very experienced pilot, and had been with the Kent Flying Club for two years. Witness also identified the body of Pragnell, retired glass and china merchant. He was a member of the Civil Air Guard and as such was learning to fly at Bekesbourne Aerodrome. It was the fifth time he had been up. It was a dual-control machine, a Gipsy II Moth biplane, in which deceased sat behind the instructor. Witness saw the aeroplane go up at approximately 11.30 a.m. Both men were then in good health as far as he knew.

Frederick Lionel Benbow Hebbert, Wing Commander, Royal Air Force, stationed at Lympne Airport, identified the body of Lewis, who, he said, was an undergraduate of Worcester College, Oxford, and a pilot officer in the R.A.F. Volunteer Reserve. He had done 77 hours flying, of which 51 hours had been on his own. Witness had not seen him flying. Deceased arrived at Lympne on Sunday, July 16th. Witness last saw him the evening before the accident and he was then in perfect health.

Dr. D. M. M. Fraser, of Eastry, said he examined the three bodies at 4.30 p.m. on Friday at the Eastry Mortuary. The principle injury to Brown was a fracture of the base of the skull and there were multiple other injuries, consistent with having fallen from a height, but not a relatively great height, perhaps 200 feet or 300 feet. The cause of death was the fracture of the base of the skull. In regard to Pragnell, the principal injury was also a fracture of the base of the skull, which was the cause of death, with multiple other injuries. The chief injury to Lewis and the cause of death, was a fracture-dislocation of the neck, and he also had multiple other injuries. In all cases death must have been instantaneous. The Coroner then adjourned the inquest until 10 a.m. on Saturday.

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« Reply #1 on: December 19, 2012, 18:45:43 PM »

The two aircraft involved were:

DH.60G Gipsy Moth G-ABJZ, Kent Flying Club, Bekesbourne

Hawker Hind K5418, Oxford University Air Squadron
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« Reply #2 on: December 19, 2012, 20:51:36 PM »

I came upon a very sad case somewhat similar to this in Hockley Essex when researching their Rolls of Honour.
One family lost 3 sons, two in the war and the other just before the war when he was a cadet learning to fly.
Seems one plot had been off to see his girlfriend and on the way back to Rochford saw the other aircraft and did a practice attack on his fellow instructor.
Whether that aircraft then reacted unexpectedly, he clipped his wing and knocked the tail off, causing it to crash out of control.
Obviously I can have no idea if that was similar to how this collision happened, but considering the few aircraft about, collisions do seem to have occurred more often than you'd expect if they were just flying from A to B.
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« Reply #3 on: March 05, 2017, 23:08:46 PM »

The headstone of Donovan William Alan Pragnell in St. Martin's churchyard, Canterbury.
The inscription also mentions his brother who died in 1969 but I can't decipher the name.

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D. W. A. Pragnell's Headstone, St. Martin's, Canterbury.jpg
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