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The day a plane crashed in a Gorleston back garden, killing four people

PUBLISHED: 16:28 24 May 2012

Mercury through the porthole 25/05/2012

Mercury through the porthole 25/05/2012

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FLIGHT featured in three prominent reports in the Yarmouth Mercury exactly a half-century ago - one tragic, one thwarted, and one wishful thinking.

By the Sixties, the small Anglia Air Charter planes taking passengers on pleasure trips had been a familiar sight over the borough for 12 years, but in the summer of 1962 the pilot and his three passengers perished when their Auster aircraft inexplicably plunged to earth as it banked above Gorleston to return to its Caister Road base.

The plane plummeted into a bungalow garden in Elmhurst Close, its wing catching the roof in its final seconds. The tail snapped off when it hit the ground. Only yards away was the unused former track of the Great Yarmouth to Lowestoft railway where an emergency landing might have been possible.

Miss Ethel Kidd was in her lounge watching television with Miss Gladys Harvey, of Upper Cliff Road, when “suddenly there was a terrific noise like an explosion which rocked the bungalow. I rushed to the bedroom and saw the plane in the garden.”

Nobody on the ground was injured. The three passengers were on only the second day of their holiday.

Also that summer, thieves made an unsuccessful attempt to steal another of the company’s Austers. In darkness they broke into the office and shop at the Caister Road airfield, removed an electrified fence across the hangar, siphoned petrol from one aircraft to another, then pushed it out on to the airfield.

Police said the intruders must have had flying experience because they started the engine and began to taxi in the £25,000 Auster, used for charter and holiday flights, but did not take off, bringing it to a stop with the nose against the perimeter fence. It was when police spotted the aircraft there the next morning, undamaged but with its navigation lights still on, that the attempt to fly it away was discovered.

“They knew enough about it to bring it to a safe halt when they saw the fence but there could well have been a terrible tragedy” said Mr “Wilbur” Wright, a director of the company.

As for the “wishful thinking” Mercury report, it concerned a suggestion that the borough council should embark on summit talks with Lowestoft into the provision of an airport incorporating a heliport for “hop” flights to towns within a 50-100 mile radius.

The council was aware that under-used railways were being targeted for closure and, despite British Railways’ assurance that there were no plans to shut Gorleston Station, the Yarmouth-Lowestoft line or the East Suffolk line linking Yarmouth, Lowestoft and Ipswich, it sent a strong letter to the Minister of Transport opposing any cut in rail services that could result in “a ghost town.”

Councillors appreciated that roads to and from the coast were difficult, and new links might be needed, hence its decision to examine the possibility of an airport.

Holiday and freight traffic were envisaged as benefiting from a local airport; top entertainers starring here in summer would be able to make return trips to London and other venues in a day. And with the Continent only 100 miles away, it would add to Yarmouth’s prestige in the Common Market.

But, of course, an airport never happened, although a heliport became a major player later in the decade when the offshore hunt for offshore oil and natural gas was launched.

It was in 1962 that a top Shell executive announced there was a “reasonable” chance of oil being found beneath the North Sea. Some 30,000 square miles of sea-bed off the East Coast from Lowestoft to the Firth of Forth was to be surveyed by Shell, BP and Esso, he said. Only two years later, Yarmouth became the North Sea pioneer base for sub-sea exploration for oil and natural gas.

Work began in 1962 to dismantle the five-span 950 ton 786ft Breydon Viaduct that had been shut for nine years since the closure of the Midland and Great Northern rail network. Explosives were used to demolish the concrete piers. Overall the £30,000 task was expected to take a year. The swing bridge was used for 50 years by trains between Yarmouth Beach and Lowestoft.

Another bridge in the news was that at Potter Heigham, six centuries old and probably built by monks from St Benet’s Abbey. The famous hump-back structure was beginning to crumble under the weight of 20th century Broadland holiday traffic. The authorities had to decide whether to repair or replace this ancient monument, one of Broadland’s best-known landmarks.

When the East Suffolk and Norfolk River Board considered a flood barrage on the Yare to reduce damage caused by any repeat of the disastrous 1953 surge, the council wondered if a bridge - costing an extra £680,000 – could be incorporated to provide a second river crossing to the Haven Bridge.

On the riverside, confidence in the future of the port was confirmed with the start of work on a £343,000 contract to rebuild the centuries-old Gorleston Pier. A daily service between Yarmouth and Scheveningen in Holland was launched. But at the annual meeting of the local branch of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, regrets were voiced at the resumption of sea-borne exports of cattle for slaughter.

A down-side was the cessation of the Hall Quay-Gorleston riverboat service after 70 years.

There was also optimism industrially: major music publisher Galliards moved into the former Barith Shoe and Swallow Prams premises on Queen Anne’s Road, Tyne Brand opened in the ex-Henry Sutton canning factory, William Clowes built its printing works where the Southtown cattle market once stood, and major employers Birds Eye and Erie Resistor began extensions.

The image of Yarmouth Grammar School as a place of quiet learning was rudely shattered when five senior boys were hurt by an explosion in a classroom. The blast resulted from the youths being in unauthorised possession of explosive material. All were treated at Yarmouth General Hospital, the most seriously hurt lad suffering slight burns and cuts.

But a desk was shattered, one piece of wood embedding itself point-first deep into a wall, another piece going through a shut door. Windows were smashed, and the ceiling was damaged. Head master Peter Marsden said: “The consequences could have been fatal.”

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