METEOR JET AIRCRAFT CRASH AT MAYS FARM SELMESTON (During the Cold War)
Sometime around 1 am on Tuesday June 29, 1954, Flying Officer John Frederick Fisher from 85 Squadron climbed into the pilot’s seat of his Gloster Meteor Mk 12 Night Fighter aircraft WS 600 , accompanied by his navigator, Pilot Officer Daniel Terence Cains. Both were in their early twenties, and this was to be just another routine night interception exercise, taking off from West Malling in Kent with 700 gallons of fuel on board, in order to patrol along the South Coast. The weather conditions were not ideal, being overcast, but at least it was dry with little wind.
Approximately half an hour later, their Commanding Officer Squadron Leader Scandrett AFC was in the control tower at West Malling when he heard Flying Officer Fisher transmit a distress call. Both engines had failed at 18,000 feet while flying over Beachy Head, Eastbourne. Flying Officer Fisher then communicated with a second Meteor also taking part in the exercise that he was going to descend to 15,000 feet and attempt to restart the engines. A further and last message from the crew was received four minutes later, stating they were baling out of the crippled aircraft. This particular aircraft was not fitted with ejector seats.
Around 1.30 am, Estelle Miller, the housekeeper at Oakfields in Chalvington, was woken by one of her dogs barking outside. She looked out of her bedroom window and was astonished to see an aircraft on fire passing very low and making ‘a grinding groaning noise’ before crashing some half a mile away. At the same time, William Puttock, a farm labourer of Yew Tree Cottage, Chalvington was lying awake in his bedroom when he also heard the same type of ‘groaning’ noise. By this time, the aircraft had lost even more height, and was now almost level with his bedroom window and was giving off a pink glow. Meanwhile, Thomas Henry Dinnis, the owner of Mays Farm Selmeston, was also aroused from his sleep by the groaning engines of the distressed aircraft, but by the time he got to his bedroom window all he could see was a mass of flames some 200 yards away on his fields. The jet had obviously flown through the power cables located nearby on its doomed descent. Mr Dinnis phoned 999 and quickly got dressed and rushed to the scene. He saw that the aircraft had crashed into the east bank of his wheat field next to a private road, some 800 yards from the junction of the Berwick to Chalvington road. A mass of flames and heat greeted him on his arrival, making it impossible to get anywhere near the aircraft. By this time the nearby hedges were also alight from the aircraft fuel. A partly opened parachute was found close by.
It was plainly evident that both crew members had been killed in the crash, and remains of their bodies were found when the flames were finally doused at around 3 am. At first light, a helicopter from the Royal Naval Air Service was summoned by officers at RAF Wartling in order to search the immediate area, and the glass canopy of the Meteor was found at Bushy Lodge West Firle, approximately three miles from the crash site. Further items of equipment from the aircraft were found in Selmeston and Chalvington, including the crew’s flying helmets, a scarf, a map and the navigator’s left shoe. The only part of the aircraft remaining of any size was the rear part of the fuselage and the tail fin, which had pieces of parachute harness caught in its leading edge. By 5am a RAF corporal and six airmen from RAF Tangmere had arrived at the crash site to guard the scene, and later the remains of the crew were removed to the mortuary at Hailsham. An inquest was held on July 1, 1954, and it was confirmed by various witnesses that the aircraft had lost power over Beachy Head and had turned inland towards Selmeston and West Firle, and it had finally crashed between Cobb Court and Mays Farm, Selmeston. The coroner, Dr Somerville, returned a verdict of accidental death in both cases, commending Mr Dinnis for his invaluable help throughout the operation. It was recommended that the new lightweight Martin–Baker ejector seats be fitted to all Mk 12 Meteors in the future.