The Crash of Avro York G-AHFA

by J. Pinsent

Feb 1, 1953 Skyways Ltd, Avro York, G-AHFA, under contract with the British air Ministry, departed Stansted, UK for Jamaica via the Azores and Gander. The aircraft departed Lagens Airfield in the Azores at 2325z for Gander at a planned altitude of 8,000 feet.

The aircraft was manned by a crew of six. Captain, 1st Officer, Navigating Officer, a\ Radio Officer, Engineer Officer, Air Hostess, and carried 33 passengers.

Captain D. Nicholls, D.F.C.
First Officer P. E. Walton.
Navigating Officer A . E. Chopping.
Radio Officer J. A. D avis.
Engineer Officer R . G. Lawrence.
Air Hostess P. M. Newton.

On 2nd February, at about 0531z approximately Lat. 46° 15' N. Long. 46° 32' W., the aircraft issued a SOS signal and immediately went missing. All aboard were later assumed to have died.

An inquiry was held on behalf of the British Ministry of Transport & Civil Aviation to investigate the accident.

There was no freight and the baggage carried was of no significance to this inquiry. The takeoff weight was 68,808Ibs. as against an authorised maximum take-off weight of 70,000 lbs

The weather forecast for the route indicated favourable flying conditions and there is no reason to consider the weather actually experienced, differed materially from that forecast. A Trans-Ocean Airlines DC-4, aircraft N75416 which flew at 8,000 feet from Lagens to Gander about three hours later confirms the weather encountered enroute was such as would permit flying by VFR with occasional cumulus tops in which light rime icing was reported. Throughout the whole flight no significant weather was experienced.

Position reports were transmitted at intervals of approximately one hour after departure and it is reasonable to assume that no trouble was encountered up to the time of the last report when the position of the aircraft at 0410 hours was given as Lat. 44° 32'N., Long. 41, ° 38' W.

At 0531 hours the Radio Operator on duty at Gander received an Urgency Signal from G-AHFA giving the position at 0530 hours as Lat. 46° 15' N. Long. 46° 31' W. This was followed immediately by the Distress Signal "S.O.S., S.O.S., S.O.S. de G-A" abruptly terminated at that point giving the impression that the transmitting station had gone off the air .

This message was described by the receiving operator in these terms readability fair but distinct. The transmission was sending good at a normal rate. There did not appear to be any hurry or increase in the transmission rate from the aircraft. This Urgency Signal was incomplete in that it did not state the reason for sending it, was followed after a scarcely perceptible break by the SOS Distress Signal

It seemed unlikely that such trouble, whatever its nature may have been, was sufficient to produce a state of alarm among the crew of the aircraft after the commencement of the transmission of the Urgency Signal. Such a signal is not one which indicates that immediate assistance is required. Had the crew been aware of a dangerous state of affairs it is reasonable to expect that the distress signal would have been used instead.

An Urgency Signal giving the reason for sending it would have been sent out without waiting for the Navigating Officer to give the Radio Officer the re-calculated position. The fact that the Urgency Signal was transmitted at normal rate and was followed immediately by the Distress Signal transmitted at a greatly increased rate and broken off abruptly before completion leads to the conclusion that trouble developed in a sudden and violent manner.

The Rescue Co-ordination Centre at Halifax N .S. received information of the distress at 0535z and at once alerted all the stations which could take action of search and rescue. A number of aircraft of the Royal Canadian Air Force was dispatched to search the area round the last reported position and surface craft of the U .S. Coast Guard were also sent in to the area. By the time the searching aircraft were in the area a cold front weather system had advanced and there were severe icing conditions with poor visibility. U.S. and Canadian aircraft were engaged upon searches on the 2nd, 3rd and 4th February and flew a total of 190 hours and covered 68,000 square miles.

No further communication of any kind was received from G-AHFA. After an extensive sea and air searches were set in motion by the Canadian and U .S. authorities had failed to discover any trace of the aircraft or its occupants. It must be accepted that all the passengers and crew lost their lives.

The surface weather conditions were un-favourable as regards tovisibility, temperature and
the state of the sea. The bad "ditching" characteristics of the York make it unlikely that
any survivor could have got out of the aircraft when it reached the surface even after a controlled descent.

The York is a high-wing monoplane the whole of the fuselage of which is below the level
of the wings. It is unlikely that the aircraft could remain afloat for more than a few seconds after even a fully controlled descent on to smooth water. In a rough sea the aircraft would almost certainly break up almost immediately and it is extremely unlikely that any of the occupants who were alive when it touched the water would have any chance of using the escape hatches or of launching any of the six internally stowed dinghies provided for such emergencies.

For a  question of possibility of crew fatigue, the operators operational manual covers this issue.
The practice of the operator is to allow an absolute minimum of 9 hours rest after 9 hours flying on normal schedule, that is to say when a flight does not entail more than 9 hours flying on one leg. On occasions when a flying time of 9 hours is required to be exceeded involving an elapsed time of more than 12 hours in anyone day crew rest of not less than 12 hours is to be allowed.

The flying time from the departure until they reached Lagens, their duty time was at least  9 hours. The turn-round at Lagens occupied 4 hours & 12 minutes during which time it is unlikely that any member of the crew had any time for recuperative rest. The total of hours on duty was over 19 hours at the time of the Distress Signal. The total of hours on duty by the time the aircraft should have reached Gander would have been nearly 23 hours, and there a landing in the dark under Instrument Flight Rules would have had to be undertaken. Although crew fatigue may have been a factor in a water surface landing, this was not considered a reason for a distress signal

The possibility of icing has been indicated that the court does not think that G-AHFA encountered icing.

It is difficult to imagine an induction of fire leading to so sudden and catastrophic a change in the situation as is indicated by the breaking off of the Urgency Signal and the immediate sending of the Distress Signal. '

The conclusion of the inquiry has to be interrupted that the cause of the crash of G-AHFA could not be determined


Information for this article was derived from the filed report of Civil Aircraft Accident Report of the Court Investigation of the Accident to YorK G-AHFA. Special thanks to Francisco Cunha @OnDisasters for bringing this to our attention and providing the accident report & @AusterityAirli1 for the image.


submitted by GAHS

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