Do you recall the HP Herald crash of 1958?

On a quiet Saturday afternoon in August 1958 the Hambledon cricket team were assembled on the Green. Their play was interrupted by the noise of an aircraft very low overhead. Arthur Blackman looked up to see an airliner on fire with flames engulfing the starboard wing. The aircraft was only one minute away from disaster.

Seconds later a couple of residents of Hydestile saw the aircraft approaching, at 1000ft, heading West. Paul Vacher recalls it vividly and recounted how he saw the starboard engine fall off the wing and plummet towards the ground – estimating that it came down in the fields to the North West of Hydestile crossroads.

Handley Page Dart Herald prototype flying at 6000′ over the Surrey Weald alongside a HP Victor V-Bomber

The Reading Mercury describes the last 20 minutes of G-AODE’s fateful flight: They were above the clouds at 6,000 feet, being photographed (in company with the Victor) by another plane, when there was a sudden bang. The starboard engine was seen to be on fire. The customary “drill” was put promptly into action; fuel turned off, propellors feathered, fire extinguishers turned on. But to no avail.

Ex-bomber pilot Hazelden, holder of the D.F.C. and bar, who had been in seven previous crashes, reacted promptly. He pointed the nose down for a quick landing, doing meanwhile all he could to minimise the threat of those ugly, reaching flames. “I am on fire – I am crashing” he radioed, and Farnborough heard him. The passengers – Mrs. Hazelden, two other women, some engineers – sat still and quiet, trusting Squadron-Leader Hazelden. Down went the Herald – and the burning engine dropped, hung, fell away: the flames leapt along the fuselage, spread to the tailplane. Part of this tailplane burnt through, fell off.

Through the windscreen, the pilot chose his landing area (fields at Eashing). There were houses on a council estate to avoid, hazardous trees. And, too, as he brought the Herald lower, he saw stretched before him the line of 11,000 volt high tension cables, barely 40′ from the ground.

Crash site at Eashing with pylons in foreground. Elstead Road top left, old A3 crossing right to left in background.

Wheels up, he slid beneath the peril of those cables, skidding and bumping the Herald on her sturdy belly for some 200 yards. A felled tree ripped a hole in the side of the fuselage. When the Herald came to a halt, all scrambled clear through this fortunate gash. A mere four minutes or so had elapsed since the engine caught fire – four minutes packed with drama. Within a brief time after that superb landing under such grimly exacting conditions, G-AODE was thoroughly ablaze.

She had more than proved the excellence of the work put into her at Woodley. Squadron-Leader Hazelden had demonstrated in no uncertain fashion his brilliant fitness for the position he holds with the firm. A telegram has been sent by the Mayor of Godalming, Councillor B. Grillo, praising him for so skilfully grounding the plane without loss of life. The passengers, shaken but unhurt, were taken to Farnborough by helicopter. Squadron-Leader Hazelden went later. The gallant Herald died in a smother of foam from fire-fighting appliances.

Reading Mercury – Saturday 06 September 1958

G-AODE Flight path over Milford to crash site by Eashing Lane
G-AODE abandoned in the Eashing fields shortly after the fire was extinguished. Note the proximity to power lines.
Sq. Ldr Hedley Hazelden, Chief Test Pilot surveys the wreck of the aircraft in Eashing

If you were in Hambledon on that fateful Saturday, do you recall seeing the aircraft? Are you able to place where the starboard engine eventually landed in Hydestile? – presumably recovered by air accident investigators soon afterwards. If you can add to this story please do contact the webteam.

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Ged
Ged
21 days ago

Great article Paul.👍

Deborah
Deborah
21 days ago

Hi Paul, an interesting story. If its estimated that the engine came down in the fields to the North West of Hydestile crossroads, this would be the Tuesley Farm estate including Hydestile Farm (where I now live). The estate was owned, at that time, by my grandfather Frank Mason and his sons Tom and Pat, and daughter Mavis, who were in their 20s at the time. I’m not aware of any account from them of a plane engine landing here, but if it did, sadly they have all passed away now and taken the story with them.