Incident Westland Whirlwind HAR2 (S-55) XJ434, 01 Oct 1955
ASN logo
ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 145658
This information is added by users of ASN. Neither ASN nor the Flight Safety Foundation are responsible for the completeness or correctness of this information. If you feel this information is incomplete or incorrect, you can submit corrected information.

Time:14:10 LT
Type:Westland Whirlwind HAR2 (S-55)
Owner/operator:22 Squadron Royal Air Force (22 Sqn RAF)
Registration: XJ434
MSN: WA/50
Fatalities:Fatalities: 0 / Occupants: 3
Other fatalities:0
Aircraft damage: Written off (damaged beyond repair)
Location:English Channel off Thorney Island, Emsworth, Hampshire -   United Kingdom
Phase: En route
Departure airport:RAF Thorney Island, Emsworth, Hampshire
Destination airport:
Confidence Rating: Information is only available from news, social media or unofficial sources
On Saturday October 1st, 1955, a Whirlwind HAR.2 serial XJ434 from 22 Squadron (Coastal Command) came down in the sea off Thorney Island during a 'wet' winching exercise. Here's the statement from the chap 'sitting in' - quite an interesting way to gain experience, I would have said!

Flight Sergeant F. J. Showell:
"I have been posted to 22 Squadron, Search and Rescue, of Coastal Command at Thorney Island to await a course of helicopter training at Westland Aircraft Yeovil. On the 1st October, 1955, I was sitting in the left hand seat of Whirlwind XJ434 to gain air experience and an insight into the Squadron exercise. At about 14:00 hrs. the helicopter took off, I had previously checked up the starting warming up and running up in Pilot's Notes, which I carried as the pilot carried out the cockpit drill. After taking off the pilot flew towards Thorney Creek and after an examination of the area for wet winching exercises he selected a position in mid channel at about 300 yards from the goal posts (channel markers). He made a circuit and approach and established a hover in mid channel.

Permission was given by the pilot to winch out. During this operation I was looking down at the water watching the slipstream effect when I noticed we were getting closer to the water. I looked back into the cockpit to see if the pilot had noted that we were descending. At this moment the navigator was heard to ask what was going on and the pilot appeared to be struggling to keep it in the air. The pilot said "the ruddy thing has died on me."

This all happened in seconds from the time I looked back into the cockpit. The next thing I knew we were settling in the water. The pilot moved the aircraft over to port to follow the accepted ditching drill. I intended to leave by the port cockpit window (which was missing) but changed my mind when I thought of the rotor blades. I stretched in front of the pilot to open his window and adjured him to get out and I followed. No difficulty was experienced in leaving the aircraft. Once in the water I swam clear of the descending tail rotor (which had stopped). The navigator was held up but before I could reach him, due to the current, he was free. I then swam ashore".

Witness statement of Aircraftsman Leslie White, who was being winched down during the exercise.
"I was detailed as Crewman of XJ 434 on Saturday 1st October, 1955, take off at 14:05 hrs. I have 51 hours experience as a crewman. I was briefed for a wet winching exercise by the Captain and Navigator. The flight appeared completely normal until my feet touched the water. I was being lowered on the winch attached to the winch hook by the straps on my Mae West. When the Navigator began to lower me on the winch, the aircraft was at about 25 feet. I was lowered steadily until my feet touched the water, my head was then 2 - 4 feet below the starboard rear wheel. When I touched the water, I realised that I was being dragged forward. The starboard oleo leg pressed me under the water. My inflated Mae West brought me to the surface. The rotor blades were turning slowly. I caught hold of the lower step of the door which was above water and unhooked my Mae West from the winch cable hook. I then assisted the Navigator to get out of the cabin. I was picked up by the yacht TINTAGEL after about 10 minutes. I was wearing a two-piece immersion suit. This suit leaked near the ankles and by the time I was picked up, was full of water to the tops of my thighs. This made swimming difficult. I borrowed a knife from the TINTAGEL and slashed the suit to release the water."


1. Halley, James (1999) Broken Wings – Post-War Royal Air Force Accidents Tunbridge Wells: Air-Britain (Historians) Ltd. p.175 ISBN 0-85130-290-4.
2. Royal Air Force Aircraft XA100-XZ999 (James J Halley, Air Britain, 2001 p 48)
3. Category Five; A Catalogue of RAF Aircraft Losses 1954 to 2009 by Colin Cummings p.160
9. National Archives (PRO Kew) File BT233/273:
10. National Archives (PRO Kew) File AVIA 5/34/S2782:

Revision history:

15-May-2012 15:54 Dr. John Smith Added
26-Jun-2012 14:27 Nepa Updated [Operator]
14-Jan-2020 17:50 Dr. John Smith Updated [Location, Departure airport, Source, Narrative]
29-May-2020 15:29 Dr. John Smith Updated [Source, Narrative]

Corrections or additions? ... Edit this accident description

The Aviation Safety Network is an exclusive service provided by:
Quick Links:

CONNECT WITH US: FSF Facebook FSF Twitter FSF Youtube FSF LinkedIn FSF Instagram

©2023 Flight Safety Foundation

701 N. Fairfax St., Ste. 250
Alexandria, Virginia 22314