Feedback Phantom Crash RAF Leuchars 12th May 1978

12th May 1978
RN
Phantom FG.1 XT868
R000

c/n 8703/2602
892 Sqn
'008/R'
 starboard wingtip hit the ground , cartwheeled on approach Leuchars during last Naval flight of a Phantom at
Leuchars, Fife. One crew member was killed in the crash
    Martin-Baker
Cdr. Carl C. N. Davies ejected
seriously injured
observer Lt John Gavin ejected but killed  

"I witnessed this accident, as I was walking between 111Sqn & 892NAS hangers.  The aircraft came across both hangers then turned quickly to the left to get onto the runway he had a high sink rate just missed the oxygen bay and the QRA sheds.  He crashed right wing down onto the approach ejecting horizontally as the wing was about to hit.  The aircraft continued to turn and ended up upside-down the navigator had no chance to get out.
The pilot was the Senior Naval Officer at Leuchars."

in email received 28th June 2006

". . . just browsing your site and I can add a bit more to the 12 May 1978 Phantom crash at Leuchars. It was a while ago now so it's possible the memory has gained or lost a little over the years but as I remember that crash 892NAS were disbanding at the time and their aircraft had come onto our inventory next door at 111Sqn.

The Navy a/c had a few 'extra's' fitted to reflect their operations; an Approach Power Compensation System (APCS) and fast reheat selection mode being two that I recall and it was the latter that may have played a part in this crash.

When selected, by a toggle switch, the fast reheat function reduced the time in seconds to light up the burners when compared to the RAF's Spey engine, necessary if you miss the wires on a carrier and want to get airborne again in a hurry! Unfortunately our crews on 111 had a habit of playing with the Navy 'extra's' so the reheat switch was hard wire-locked in the cockpit to prevent operation.

I seem to recall that the Senior Naval Officer was doing a farewell beat up of the base prior to leaving and because his squadron had effectively disbanded, he 'borrowed' one of the 892 a/c from us at 111. I didn't actually see the low level he alledgedly made but I was told it was straight down the runway and at not much more than undercarriage height and that the subsequent pull up was equally as impressive although tight turn to get round onto base leg was very, very tight and at a high rate of knots. The common opinion going round the squadron's after the crash was that this manouvre was outside the Phantom's flight envelope and the engine on the inside of the turn flamed out due to stavation of air caused by being in the wake of the fuselage. The high sink rate that was witnessed in the turn was also typical of the Phantom yet arguably, it was potentially recoverable, even from low level, provided there was sufficient time for reheat to engage and produce thrust!!!

Unfortunately for the pilot and his Nav selection of that function was not an option because it was locked off so the crash was inevitable. I do recall, as your other witness stated, that the a/c hit the undershoot area of the runway on it's starboard side, however, I'm certain that nobody knew there had been an ejection at the time, everybody assumed the crew were still on board when it crashed. The reason I say this is because the 202, or 22 Sqn (I can't recall which) ASR helicopter went up over the crash site afterwards to take forensic photo's and their attention was drawn to a herd of cows standing around an ejection seat in a nearby field. in the seat was the SNO, still alive but critically injured (the seat apparently went along the ground and through a barbed wire and a wooden fence during the ejection. I also believe he survived for some years afterwards, and may still be living but that sadly he was severely brain damaged.

It's interesting how stumbling across your site and this crash brought it all flooding back. I'm reaching that age now where I can appreciate what it feels like to be a veteran, this incident had absolutely no impact on my son when he read it yet it was a major event that impacted so many people at the time. There's a few other Leuchars ejections that you've missed around that time (1976-79) but unfortunately I don't recall dates. I remember 2 x 43 Sqn a/c leaving the runway during take off due to nosewheel steering failures, a/c recoverable but I'm sure the crews ejected at the time. Also, the crew of the last of 3 Phantom's which crashed over a 3 month period in the infamous 'Arbroath Triangle' managed to eject safely into the sea (the previous 2 did not get out) and finally. The Phantom which caught fire on take off and was destroyed was due to a fuel leak from one of the forward fuselage tanks which ran out of the drain, down the central fuselage and was ignited by the reheat which caused the flame to back track and set fire to the tank itself I remember talking to the Nav afterwards and he said he knew something was wrong when he looked in the mirrors and all he could see was flames behind his head."

 All the best.

 Ken Baker
in email received 26th November 2006

Re: -

Ken Bakers

Piece /write up
In email received 26th November 2006

I too remember the time at RAF Leuchars when the Navy Phantom 982 NAS crashed. [Very nasty very tragic out come. I think Ken has covered it well and most of his faces are correct]

The only things I can add is that it was widely believed that he was in a tight turn and attempting a carrier style landing e.g. dropping the a/c at the last second onto the end of the runway to take or just miss the wire, but the tail of the a/c came around too fast and lost stability e.g. sliding under the a/c and the a/c ended up by hitting the ground in an inverted position facing the wrong way.

Some time during this manoeuvre the Nav Ejected and was shot sideways across the Airfield and into the adjoining field.

After skidding along the runway for a short distance the a/c bounced and ended up the right way up but on fire. I believe the Pilot was already dead by this time. [I Hope; Terrible way to go]

 

I also remember 1 not 2 x 43 Sqn a/c leaving the runway during take off due to nosewheel steering failures [The steering had not been reconnected properly after the a/c had been towed out],

I don’t remember the date, but I remember it very well as I was working in the Ejection Seat Bay at the time.

It’s one of my favourite stories.

I serviced the seats. Then I was moved for a week to help on the Sqn, as they were short of armourers and I helped to fit the seats.

I then went back to the seat bay, and was walking from the seat bay to the hangers when the accident happened.

I had the honour of watching the seats being used.

I also drank the beer that the crew gave us. [Thanks lads].

 

John Ferguson

Ex: - 111 Sqn and Seat bay RAF Leuchars
in email 9th February 2008

 

Phantom Crash RAF Leuchars 12th May 1978

 

Please note that the technical detail of the a/c type and modifications as indicated by Ken Baker and possibly other correspondents, is outside my knowledge. The following, however, is what I saw of the crash from close-up, some of which is at variance with what others have stated.

 

At the exact time of the crash I was in my service Land Rover held on red prior to crossing the runway. This threshold position was just on the left airfield side of the bulk oxygen tank that was to my right; on my left were huts and buildings that partially blocked the view down the runway. My position was some 15/20 yards from the runway and not far from the undershoot area. I heard the a/c – saw it briefly as it past me on take–off – and then, within seconds and with a deafening roar of engines, the a/c came in to view again and just missing the bulk oxygen tank did a pancake landing right in front of me. It then flipped to starboard some ninety degrees and at which instant I saw the occupied ejector seat fly out horizontally and amazingly went into a field through two single strands of wire. Within a minute the crash alarm came over my radio and simultaneously the threshold light went to green. As two or three people were already running from the nearby buildings towards the still occupied ejector seat in the field, I saw that the a/c had come to rest right way up and was not on fire, therefore I drove the short distance towards the a/c intending to help rescue the other occupant but quickly saw that he had had not survived. All emergency personnel had arrived by then.

 

PS  - My job at the time was being responsible for monitoring all aspects of security on the base and only a couple of days before the crash, Commander Davies had been chatting to me about a classified document he needed to sort out prior to the RN squadrons moving out of Leuchars.

 

PPS  - Another interesting incident at Leuchars in about August 1978 happened during a violent thunderstorm. After a very busy operational flying day under exercise conditions, all a/c were being serviced outside the hangars late into the night, regardless of the rain and lightening. However, for one of the armourers working underneath an a/c checking the Raytheon Sparrow Air to Air missiles was in for a big surprise when a crack of lightening in his vicinity triggered the launch of one of the missiles. How it missed other a/c or ground staff one will never know. Its direction was reported as going towards the nearby village of Guardbridge. Although this was night – I had two teams out looking through cornfields and hedges etc but it was only at daybreak that the remains of the missile were found in the nearby Eden Estuary, after the tide had gone out and within about 100 yards of houses in the village. What surprised me at the time was that I never heard anyone talking about the incident afterwards – probably because of the OSA in operation then.     

Ted Hellewell
in email 20th October 2009