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We know that for whatever reason the enquiry stated that the crew were given an accurate weather forecast.… this seems open to opinion but unfortunately no forecast can ever take highly localised conditions into account and it is not intended to do so.

However it is also the basis for navigation, particularly in poor visibility and was issued a very short time before the accident so it was reasonable to have expected it to be correct.

Although the crew knew about the horrendous conditions at Portsmouth, they had been flying at a higher level when they crossed the Isle of Wight on the outward flight and thus had no idea of what visibility was like below the cloud.  They were totally reliant on the forecast for the safe planning of their return flight and with the pressure that may have been put on them to try and land at Portsmouth, the forecast became critical. Indeed the detail provided may very well have been the factor that persuaded them that it was safe to make a low level flight round the Island and on to Portsmouth.

Flying a local route in 1962 wasn't like today's choreographed operations and the crew were relying on split second timing, their own navigation using dead reckoning, literally lines drawn on a chart with a pencil, and a sharp lookout to position the plane just off the Island for the next part of the approach. It was pencil, paper, and Mk 1 eyeball. Today, radar and GPS satellite navigation would have the position fixed within a few yards - then they could be a few miles miles out and not know it - indeed some famous cases in the 1950's had planes actually flying in the opposite direction due to basic mathematical error by the navigator.  These two pilots were navigating and flying the plane and did not have a third man on the flight deck to assist, but they would have appreciated that all navigation needs to build in a safety factor to account for the unexpected.

In this case they would have been allowing 5 miles between the plane and any solid obstruction, and thus they were either reckless, which seems highly unlikely, or badly deceived as to the correct position.    Given that the aircraft appears to have been aborting the descent when it hit the hill, it is possible that the crew believed they were at the edge of their safety margin - but to be this far out on a short flight indicates that something was seriously wrong.

Dead reckoning relies on plotting a projected track and positions at any given time, based on input from known factors.  The main ones are the speed of the plane and the wind which will blow the aircraft off course - thus to go where the Captain intends, the crew have to fly in a different direction so that the wind can be counteracted. Winds vary with height and generally increase the higher you go.  While weather prediction is reasonably accurate, it is not precise, a forecast is just that, it is not a statement of fact.  Later interpretation of the charts has suggested that the wind speed may have been underestimated, especially in mid channel where again, speeds are generally higher. This was well within the margin of error but additionally we know that the island was covered in cloud and that this was lower than anticipated and extended further out to sea. Thus if the wind was a little stronger, the plane would have been travelling faster than expected and would have reached the coast - and a fog bank - a few minutes sooner.

Weather reports after the accident hinted at a slight but significant difference in the wind direction, although both were virtually on the tail for the main part of the flight. There is just a possibility that a higher speed and a more Westerly wind would have made a significant difference to the plane's track, blowing it further East and increasing the ground speed.  My amateur plotting indicates that the difference, taking the worst case, would have been about 5 miles ahead of the expected position and making landfall at the very point where the Isle of Wight reaches furthest South,  St Boniface Down,  thus two factors would be reducing the safety margin.

Additionally  the first leg to Alderney would have had the wind to Port (left) and thus pushing the plane East.  It is perhaps interesting that although the 'official' flight plan provided by the enquiry shows the plane's track crossing Alderney, the crew reported Alderney 'in sight'. They did not say they were overhead. This may be irrelevant - or it might confirm that they were already off track due to a higher wind.  Again, we can never know, but the choice of wording in flying 'speak' is a precise matter and may possibly be significant.

If the cloud was lower than 500', then by maintaining a safe altitude, the crew would actually have been too high to see the sea and to get into position to make a visual approach, but reducing height to low level in poor visibility can be dangerous as it is difficult to determine where the sea ends and the sky begins.  Everything they did in these circumstances would have been aimed at fixing their position off the coast or giving up the attempt in good time to climb clear of the Island, so by adhering to the rules the problem was potentially made worse. Normally this would have been no concern as the aircraft would not have been attempting to land at an airport where an ordinary instrument approach was highly unlikely to succeed. However, for reasons not entirely clear, they were doing just that, Channel did operate to the limit of weather minima, and they had no modern navigation aids to help them. It was all perfectly safe - as long as they could pick up the coastline.

Immediately before the accident the plane was climbing and turning right and while this may have been an evasive manoeuvre, as suggested by the airline, but there is no record we have seen to suggest any violent alteration in direction or emergency increase in engine noise until immediately before the impact. One of the survivors commented years later that he had been reading the newspaper and the flight had been uneventful, then suddenly the Pilot had ‘banged on power and started to turn’. Moments later they hit the hillside.  

Unlike a jet aircraft, with piston engines any change would have been immediately noticeable. The fact that there was no unusual change in engine power until evasive action was taken seems to imply that the crew were not concerned and while power was being re-applied, it was at a standard rate to enable the plane to abort the descent and climb back to a safe height. That would indicate the crew thought they were within the safety zone and were responding normally by giving up the approach and diverting to Southend.

Having found that the cloud did not clear at 600 feet as forecast they began a climb back to their original cruising altitude and were turning away from the coast which was hidden in a wall of fog and cloud.  Unfortunately the weather had closed in and instead of breaking into clear air they found themselves still in a wall of cloud that was lower than expected ( although the forecast did clearly state 8/8 cloud on exposed coasts ) - with the expected wind, they would have believed the plane to be approaching the minimum 'safe' distance of five miles from the nearest obstruction and at a point where the coast was further away and much lower - unfortunately the aircraft was further East at the one point where the coast projected further into the Channel, and the plane was 5 -6 miles ahead of the expected position due to the winds. They were turning, believing they were safe over open water - and flew headlong into the hillside.

You can’t blame the weather forecast for the accident but if it had reflected local conditions more accurately, and the crew had not felt under huge pressure to reach Portsmouth, there is a good chance that the aircraft would never have been in that position.

After ten years research, that is my best guess as to why this tragedy happened.

          Navigation & Weather