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Rotterdam Airport Crash

Eyewitness Report Rotterdam Crash
Over the lifespan of the aircraft, several were lost in (fatal) accidents. See the production list for details regarding location and date. One of the early planes that were lost was number 3/18339, which crashed at Rotterdam, The Netherlands on the 28th of December, 1962. Below you can find the original eyewitness report by one of the passengers of this plane who e-mailed the following text to me on June 13th, 2002.

"Having watched the program about the Comet on Channel 4 tonight it prompted me to look on the Web for information about the Carvair. With my parents and my sister I was a passenger on the Carvair that crashed at Rotterdam. We were on route to Holland where we were going to be living for two years. It was my first flight! Unlike the moviues there was no panic when the pilot announced that the plane was going to crash and that we should assume brace position. We actually landed the right way up but the plane then flipped over, apparently because we hit a dyke. The winter of 62/63 was extremely cold and the ground was frozen and covered with snow. It is believed that this is what stopped the plane exploding. We all escaped through an emergency exit but because the plane was upside down the rope to the ground wasn't long enough so my father threw my sister and I out to other people who caught us(we were only 3 and 7 at the time). The Stewardesses were slightly injured but unfortunately the pilot died. As I understand it the cause of the crash was never firmly established although I think the black box recorder was recovered. My parents ensured that we all flew back to England shortly afterwards sothat we would not be scared of flying. This worked in part- we were alright while we were younger but are both now apprehensive about flying. My sister sat next to one of the other passengers on the flight several years ago and I believe someone involved in the Reading rail fire was also a passenger on the plane. Hope this information is of interest! --- Vicki Venn (nee Hudson)"

... end of quote.
Photo of G-ARSF
after the crash

The 1962 (28 December) crash at Rotterdam Airport brought my grandparents together
Human interest story related to the crash, sent to me on September 17th, 2011.

"After having a conversation with my grandparents and how they have met each other; I ran into a clue which I'd knew would be traceable even now, 50 years later. My grandfather worked as a technician at Zestienhoven in 1962. He took his girlfriend out for a date (which is now my grandmother) to the airport that specific cold day; and saw the plane crash. A day later, the wreck was released to the public. My grandfather decided to take a look there and see how the "kist" looked like. While they were driving the van to the site, my grandmother asked him "If you really like me, please tell me now because I'm tired of being in doubt". Eventually my grandfather took his chance and told her that he loved here, while they were driving to that crash site. I guess that, due to that crash and that specific moment in the van, eventually created a strong connection between them because they both shared this horrible experience. In some way it's ironic to see how people can be brought together in such a terrible way. When I look at the picture, it's strange to think about the fact that that's the place where my grandparents formed such a strong connection which eventually; well, basically resulted in me. I know this ain't some kind of valuable witness report, but I'd thought it might be interested sharing this with you. From what I gather, however, I can confirm that the black box has indeed been found and recovered. The tapes showed out that the airplane had set an incorrect altitude, resulting in a glide slope proven to be too low. On a sidenote, I heard him mention that the plane wasn't carrying passengers only, but also some of the newest Jaguar cars, ranging up to 60.000 Nederlandse Gulden (155.000 euro's in nowadays money). This was done due to the fact that the whole airplane had to be used when it was not entirely filled, probably to save expenses. Kind regards, Ruben"

... end of quote.

Analysis Rotterdam Crash by Maarten Brouwer
The first accident involving a Carvair happened at Rotterdam airport, Netherlands, on 28th December 1962, only ten months after the type had been put into service. The aircraft involved, Channel Air Bridge’s G-ARSF “Pont de l’Europe”, had made its first flight after conversion on 27th June 1962. Although at the time of the accident the conditions on the snow-covered airport and the surrounding terrain had been less than favourable, the Netherlands Air Accident Board, having studied the cause of the accident, drew the harsh conclusion: pilot’s error by the commander. Let us have a look at the facts with the help of essential sections from the Report of the Netherlands Air Accident Board .

About the flight and the circumstances of the accident the Report tells us the following:

"On 28th December 1962 at 1002 hrs. (all times given hereafter are GMT aircraft G-ARSF, Carvair, took off from Southend aerodrome on a scheduled flight to Rotterdam airport. On the flight deck the left-hand seat was occupied by the commander and the right-hand seat by the co-pilot. The engineer sat in the seat between the two pilots. Before take-off the flight was delayed for about one hour owing to changes in the loading and an inspection of the runway. On take-off the commander ordered the co-pilot to operate the radio, undercarriage and wing flaps and the engineer to operate the engines. During cruising flight a defect arose in the cabin heating system. The heating was switched off, which resulted in a low temperature on the flight deck and in the passenger compartment. These conditions were uncomfortable but caused no difficulty to the crew in the piloting of the aircraft. Otherwise nothing untoward occurred during the flight. At 1044 hrs. the aircraft opened up radio communication with the Rotterdam control tower. At 1045 hrs. G-ARSF was given the following weather report: wind 200º/5knots, QNH 1015.5 mb., visibility 1500 m. in snow, 2/8 at 180 m., 5/8 at 300 m. Shortly before the aircraft entered the Rotterdam control area it received from another Carvair, which had just left Rotterdam, the warning that the runway was slippery. After the aircraft had entered the Rotterdam control area it received clearance to proceed to the R.R. beacon and to descend to 1500 ft. On approach to the airport it was given clearance to descend further to 1000 ft. At this altitude the crew was flying contact with a horizontal visibility of 2 nautical miles. At 1055 hrs. the aircraft was over the airport and received the message that the runway and taxiways were covered with a layer of firm snow 2 cm. deep, that sand was strewn on the runway and taxiways, and that the braking effect was moderate. As they flew over the crew could see the airport. After passing the outer marker beacon on the outboard heading the aircraft was still in “whiteness”, according to the engineer’s statement; no horizon was visible. After the aircraft had reported being over the beacon at 1000 ft. a procedure turn was made, whereupon the aircraft approached the airport on the required heading and the flight deck check list was completed. The speed during which the procedure turn was 130 mph., the engine speed 2500 rpm. and the wing flap setting 30º. Both altimeters were set on QNH 1015.5 mb. and indicated the same reading. Clearence to land was received and the descent was begun. The ILS glide path was intercepted and during the approach to the airport, after passing the outer marker, the crew had the runway lighting in sight and the approach was continued visually. At 600-700 ft. the aircraft was above the ILS glide path; the needle of the instrument was deflected to the maximum. The power setting then amounted to 2550 rpm. with 27" intake pressure, which was then steadily reduced to 2550 rpm. and 18" intake pressure. At a distance of about half-a-mile from the airport full flap was applied. The aircraft then lost height rapidly in a horizontal attitude when it reached the dike which forms the boundary of the airport. It hit the dike with its main wheels, bounced and flew on. The right wing then dropped and hit the ground. The aircraft turned and made a rolling movement to the right; it came to rest on its back. After the aircraft hit the ground for the second time, the right-hand wing broke off, and the fuselage of the aircraft came to rest upside down over the right-hand wing. The commander was killed, the co-pilot seriously injured, and the engineer and stewardess slightly injured. The 14 passengers were uninjured.

The conditions on Rotterdam airport at the time of the accident were wintry: there was considerable snow covering, which gave the airport the appearance of a white plain. There was no contrast with the surrounding terrain. The available length of runway for a landing on runway 24 amounted at the time of the accident to 1420 m. The runway, as well as the hard-standing in front of the runway threshold, were covered with a thin layer of snow, because in this area the snow had been cleared and deposited from a low bank of snow along the edges. Furthermore, both the runway and the hardstanding in front of the threshold had been strewn with sand. At 1145 hrs. the following observation of the runway was made: measured from the bottom upwards the runway was covered with a layer of ice 2 mm. thick mixed with sand and with 5-8 mm. of firm snow, also mixed with sand. At the edges of the runway there was a layer of loose snow 1 cm. thick. Both the runway and approach lighting were on at 100% intensity during the approach. All lights were on. The runway and threshold lighting systems were cleared of snow at about 1030 hrs. The obstruction lighting was on in the approach sector, including the red lights marking the dike, which is situated about 240 metres in front of the runway threshold and 120 metres in front of the beginning of the extension to it. The red and white obstruction markers in the dike had not been cleared of snow. After the accident the Netherlands Department of Civil Aviation instituted an enquiry into the daylight visibility of the obstruction marking on the dike and of the runway and approach lighting under conditions in which the surrounding terrain is covered with snow. During this enquiry a number of approaches under similar conditions were made on runway 24 by a Dakota aircraft. The results of this enquiry were as follows:

  1. The dike lies 1.40 m. below the obstruction free zone required by ICAO.
  2. The dike did not stand out against the surrounding terrain.
  3. The obstruction lighting and the markers on the dike were not effective.
  4. The approach lighting between the dike and the runway could not be distinguished
    clearly during an approach, particularly not during a low approach.
  5. The threshold lights were not clearly visible and provided the pilot with no point of reference
    for the runway threshold.
  6. The crossbar of the approach lighting was clearly visible the whole time.
  7. It is very improbable that the crossbar can be confused with the threshold lighting.
  8. It is possible that the similarity between the upper surface of the runway proper and that of the
    extension of runway 06 (the underrun of runway 24), as well as the position of the snow which had been cleared from the runway, gave the impression that the runway began at a distance of 120 m. instead of 240 m. from the dike".

As the Report shows, the analysis of the accident by the Netherlands Air Accident Board is a very clear one: "The aircraft was airworthy, had a valid certificate of airworthiness and was loaded in the proper manner. Both pilots were competent to pilot the aircraft. Both had considerable experience with the aircraft type in question and had made a number of landings at Rotterdam airport. They were familiar with the characteristics of the approach area of runway 24 and the conditions as regards the extension of this runway. The available runway length, although the runway was slippery owing to the snow, was sufficient for a safe landing to be made with ILS approach. The commander carried out the approach procedure in the proper manner, but during the final stage of approach the aircraft, owing to insufficient power, rapidly lost height, thus descending below the ILS glide path. Once he was below the glide path the approach lights between the dike and the runway and the threshold lights were not clearly visible to the commander, which made it difficult for him to estimate height and distance. As a result the commander did not realise that the aircraft was losing height too quickly.

The Netherlands Air Accident Board concluded as follows: "The accident was due to the fact that the commander carried out the final stage of approach below the normal glide path with insufficient engine power, as a result of which the speed of the descent was too high in relation to the horizontal distance still to be covered to the beginning of the runway. Consequently, the aircraft, at a high vertical speed, hit a dike, after which the right wing broke off and the aircraft came to rest on its back, with its nose facing the direction of approach. The Board is of the opinion that even if there had been no dike, and it was not an obstruction of any significant height, the aircraft would still have hit the ground a considerable distance short of the runway threshold, although possibly with less fatal consequences than in the present instance". The clearness of the details the Report of the Netherlands Air Accident Board provides us, concerning the flight and circumstances of the accident, the conditions at that time at Rotterdam airport, and the analyses by the Board of the accident itself, leaves nothing to be desired. They are the basis of our view that the conclusion of the Netherlands Air Accident Board is an example of one-sidedness: the aircraft crashed following an error by the commander, and that was it. The fact that the airport authorities had been negligent for not clearing from snow the red and white obstruction markers on the dyke - when visible they probably would have been the only effective landmarks in these wintry circumstances - was left aside. And so Captain John Tootill, who died during the crash, was made scapegoat. Hardly surprising, the comment of Channel Air Bridge’s Managing Pilot, Captain Robert Langley, exactly 36 years after the accident, to the Netherlands Air Accident Board’s conclusion was a bitter one: "I was involved in the whole of the inquest. The Airport Authorities should have been held more responsible for the accident!!! Had the dyke marker boards been clear it would not have happened. However, I was not allowed to express my opinion!!".

© Maarten Brouwer, November 2002

Sources:
Report of the Netherlands Air Accident Board on the accident to A.T.L.98 Carvair G-ARSF at Rotterdam Airport on 28th December 1962 - Letter from the late Captain Robert Langley, DFC, to the author, date 28 December 1998