On This Day: Farnborough Air Show tragedy kills 29

SEPT 6, 1952: Twenty-nine spectators were killed after a fighter jet disintegrated in mid-air and showered parts over the crowd at the Farnborough Air Show on this day in 1952.

Pilot John Derry and onboard test observer Anthony also died shortly after their DH 110 prototype broke the sound barrier at low level and produced a sonic boom.

As the plane then banked and headed towards the 120,000-strong crowd at 500mph, the outer left wing fell off first, followed by the two engines and then the cockpit.


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Filming what remains Britain’s deadliest air show disaster, British Pathé filmed the debris suddenly filling the sky and then raining down in front of terrified fans.

The editors of the newsreel decided not to show the resulting carnage, with the reporter saying: “Far better not to show the harrowing scenes that followed.”

They did, however, film some of the 60 people injured being treated while twisted bits of metal lay beside them on a bloody field in Hampshire.

Luckily, most of the parts narrowly avoided the throngs of spectators but one of the jet turbines split in two and plunged straight into Observation Hill.

But astonishingly, rather than cancel the event, another daring pilot, Neville Duke, went straight up in the air to perform a second supersonic flyby.

Yet, despite the decision that would likely appall modern health and safety planners, a major inquiry was set up to improve the security of spectators as such events.

The disaster prompted the introduction of stringent safety measures.

Jets must now stay at least 750ft from the crowd if flying straight and 1,500ft when doing aerobatic manoeuvres and at least 500ft above the ground.


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A probe also discovered that a faulty wing leading edge design was to blame for the aircraft falling apart.

Manufacturer De Havilland, which was based in Hatfield in Hertfordshire, fixed the fault and the jet was later used by Royal Navy and renamed a Sea Vixen.

Since the Farnborough Tragedy, no member of the public has been killed at a British air show.

The world’s worst such disaster took saw 83 people die near Lviv in the Ukraine in 2002.

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