THE DOWNEND TRAGEDY REMEMBERED
November 1957 Bristol Britannia G-ANCA, a 300 series, was returning to Filton following a development flight when she crashed in what was then Bracey Wood (another source refers to the site as Lincombe Wood), avoiding housing and a school adjacent to the woods. All fifteen on broad perished, but miraculously nobody on the ground was killed. However property was damaged and an engine landed on the spot where normally a baby would be asleep in a pram. That day the baby was not there.
Fifty years later, on 3rd November 2007, several hundred people attended a commemoration arranged by Downend and Bromley Heath Parish Council. The present vicar, Rev. Vicary and Richard Randall, author of Death of a Giant gave speeches before Mrs Beryl Statham, wife of the captain of G-ANCA, unveiled a memorial plaque at the entrance to the crash site, now renamed Britannia Wood. Those attending included local residents, some of who remembered the day. There were also former Filton workers, as well as those such as myself, who serviced or flew Britannia aircraft and remember them with affection. Rev. Vicary described the recollections of people in the houses when G-ANCA hit their homes and of the near misses some had. There were moving accounts of people whose lives would never be the same. He dealt well with the spiritual and social effects of the crash and left us wondering if the hand of God was involved in preserving lives.
Richard Randall described what is known of G-ANCs final flight in a thorough and clear manner. He reminded us that a runaway autopilot was considered a possible cause of the manoeuvre the led to the crash and of the skill and airmanship needed to avoid loss of life on the ground. I spoke to him afterwards as I recalled an occasion at RAF Lyneham when a crew reported a runaway autopilot on approach. It went nose up and had to be disengaged for landing. After two hours of testing, another fitter and I could not replicate the fault. However we gave it one more try and, lo and behold it ran away nose down! Mr Randall thought it possible that the pilots autopilot cut-out was fitted subsequent to the Downend crash.
Mrs Statham spoke warmly of her husband and his generosity, recalling that he would always say yes if somebody asked if they could have a trip with him. However on that day in November 1957 he said no. When she first heard that an aircraft had crashed, she knew it was her husbands. Following this loss, Mrs Statham found that her faith helped to sustain her.