MEMORY LANE: Flyers survived mid-air crash over Hartlepool

The wreckage left after a mid-air crash over Hartlepool in May 1960. Miraculously, all the RAF airmen survived.
The wreckage left after a mid-air crash over Hartlepool in May 1960. Miraculously, all the RAF airmen survived.

MEMORIES of a plane crash which left wreckage strewn across Hartlepool still remain vivid for former merchant seaman Derek Hinds – even though he was just a boy at the time.

Two Gloster Javelin fighter planes were on a training run along the Durham coast when they collided at 40,000ft. One smashed into a field at Naisberry, and the other into the sea.

I was playing golf when I heard the plane overhead. It looked to me as though it was doing aerobatics. Then I realised it was in trouble and a few minutes later it crashed.

Chief Inspector Harold Coyne, West Hartlepool Police

Miraculously, all four airmen survived after ejecting. Navigator Derek Clark landed at High Hesleden, while pilot David Wyborn fell near Blackhall. The two others landed in the sea.

“I was out on my bike, in the back lane behind my house, when I heard the noise of engines. I looked up to see what appeared to be a plane flying very low,” recalls Derek Hinds of May 21, 1960.

“When I saw it pass over the Grayfields area it looked as though the canopy over the cockpit was missing. Just after that there was a thud/explosion – obviously when it hit the ground.

“It narrowly missed the rooftops of houses at West View before finally crashing into a field near where Throston Golf Club is today. Fire engines were soon dashing up Hart Lane.”

Land, sea and air rescue services were all called into action after the planes – XA823 and XA835 – crashed just after 2.30pm. Damage was sufficient to cause both to be ditched.

XA823 nose-dived into the North Sea about 50 miles off the coast. XA835 was pointed out towards the sea when the crew ejected, but it turned on its own and headed back inland.

“It climbed vertically over the Broomhill housing estate, then went into a dive. I saw it flying low over the area near Grayfields sports ground before I heard the crash,” said Derek.

“The area was roughly in line with the trees west of the golf club. I cycled up there but, by the time I got there, the police had cordoned off the area and wouldn’t let anybody near.”

The plane crash made front page news in the evening edition of the Mail on May 21, 1960, with West Hartlepool Police Chief Inspector Harold Coyne quoted as one of the eye-witnesses.

“I was playing golf when I heard the plane overhead. It looked to me as though it was doing aerobatics. Then I realised it was in trouble and a few minutes later it crashed,” he said.

Hundreds of sightseers “jammed the roads” leading to High Throston Farm in the hours after the crash – with people reported “walking eight or ten abreast” as they headed to the scene.

Farmer Robert Bird was left with the headache of cleaning up after the crash AND sightseers, telling the Mail: “The crops will all have to be ploughed and re-sown.”

• Do you have a story or memories to share about Hartlepool’s rich history? Email sarah.stoner@jpress.co.uk

ALSO IN THE NEWS IN HARTLEPOOL IN MAY 1960

A public appeal to build or acquire a civic theatre for West Hartlepool was launched on May 3. It was felt that a theatre would “add prestige” to the booming industrial area.

• The Hartlepools were declared a “blackspot in declining Methodism” on May 2, with 80 town members lost within the last year. Park Road Church was earmarked for closure.

• Book borrowing soared in Hartlepool in May, with 15,000 borrowed just by children within a month. “This augurs well for the future,” said local councillor J.O. Curry.

• Bedside telephones were introduced at West Hartlepool General Hospital in May, so that “patients will no longer have to rely on hospital staff to make calls for them” said the Mail.

• Work on extending Hartlepool Water Company’s reservoir pit at Dalton Percy was making “rapid progress”. The work was to increase capacity from one to four million gallons.

• Hartlepool man George Calvert became one of the first British tourists allowed into Moscow – and even “gate-crashed” the marching columns in Red Square on May Day.

• West Hartlepool World Refugee Year Committee raised over £1,500, thanks to bring-and-buy sales, dances bowls nights, whist drives, coffee mornings and collections.

• Number 113 High Street, Hartlepool – home and 18th century birthplace of Sir Cuthbert Sharp, historian, balladist and dilettante, was demolished after an 11-year battle to stop it.

• William Gray and Co, of West Hartlepool, won an order for a 12,000-ton cargo ship in May. “In a highly competitive market, the order was won at a keen price,” stated the Mail.

• On May 26, 1960, Mrs Mabel Elizabeth Smith became the first woman mayor of Hartlepool in 759 years - since King John granted the borough its Royal Charter.