Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Air-to-Air Refueling Accident

The safety record of the Victor as a tanker aircraft in both the Mk1 & Mk2 versions is extremely high.
Considering how close in proximity a tanker is to its receiver aircraft, then the record is second to none and this was all down to exceptional trust, high training and professionalism shown by both the tanker and the receiver crews.
The only 'fatal' accident with a Victor tanker of any mark during Air to Air Refuelling occurred in March 1975, involving a Victor K1a (XH618) from RAF Marham and a Buccaneer S2 (XV156) from RAF Honington in Suffolk. The Buccaneer pilot was on a AARR currency check-flight and was in a two-ship formation with another Buccaneer. The aircraft in question was attempting a 'contact' with the port wing hose of the Victor.

The Buccaneer approached slightly too fast and overtook the hose basket and this then apparently bumped its way down the side of the canopy and partially down the aircraft's spine. The Buccaneer rose above the Victor's wing with the hose probably still against it and dropped back on power in order to back-off. However the Buccaneer in climbing contacted the port tailplane of the Victor and structurally weakened it to the point it was observed to oscillate visibly. One of the Buccaneer pilots realised that the situation was critical and advised an immediate bail-out to the Victor crew. Time unfortunately was not of the essence and the Victor nose dived violently and then pitched past the vertical, screaming downwards. The crew pinned in solidly by the G-forces stood little chance.

The Victor as in all the V Bombers was only equipped with ejection seats for the pilots, the rear crew (3) and the Crew Chief had to exit via the cabin door. The Captain Keith Handscombe was somehow 'ejected' from the aircraft, some say he managed to get to the seatpan firing handle and just managed to pull it with a couple of fingers in the nick of time and in fact he used to relate the story that way. Other Victor Aircrew known to us tend to believe he came out of the aircraft as it was torn apart via the forces. However he was the only survivor, all 3 rear crew perished as did the co-pilot who according to Keith Handscombe was unable to overcome the G-forces to pull the seat handle.

The Battle scarred Buccaneer returned safely to its home base. No trace of XH618 or the crew has ever been found, the accident occured off of the North East coast of England. Keith Handscombe severely traumatised physically and mentally came down in the North Sea and was picked up by a fishing vessel. He was then taken to the RAF hospital at RAF Nocton Hall by helicopter and made a full recovery. He then bravely returned to flying on the Victor K2 and passed away in Norfolk in 2009.

The cause of the accident was deemed to be: Aircrew Error.
On a pre-arranged visit several years ago I was fortunate to meet one of the immediate family members from the rear crew of this dreadful accident and I was able to show them the actual crew position and the equipment that their relative had operated. It helped them to understand what had happened that day.

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