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ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 211258
Last updated: 24 November 2021
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Date:15-AUG-1933
Time:day
Type:Silhouette image of generic wapi model; specific model in this crash may look slightly different
Westland Wapiti Mk IIA
Owner/operator:605 (County of Warwick) Squadron Royal Air Force (605 (County of Warwick) Sqn RAF)
Registration:
MSN:
Fatalities:Fatalities: 0 / Occupants: 2
Other fatalities:1
Aircraft damage: Written off (damaged beyond repair)
Location:Leysdown Gunnery Ranges, Isle of Sheppey, Kent -   United Kingdom
Phase: En route
Nature:Military
Departure airport:RAF Manston, Kent
Destination airport:
Narrative:
Westland Wapiti Mk.IIA, 605 (County of Warwick) Squadron, RAF Castle Bromwich, Staffordshire: Involved in a fatal accident on 15/8/33, when a female civilian in a boat was hit by a stray bullet, during air-to-ground firing practice at Leysdown Gunnery Ranges, Isle of Sheppey, Kent. The female civilian fatality was named as Miss Enid Jean M Chesterton (aged 17). It seems that the boat she was in either drifted or was rowed into the "danger zone", the area of the ranges where live firing was taking place.

The crew of the Westland Wapiti were

Flying Officer John Henry Wood (pilot)
AC.1 John Boahemia (air gunner)

Neither of whom sustained any injuries. According to a contemporary local newspaper report ("Sheerness Guardian", Saturday, August 19, 1933 - see link 2):

"Squadron Leader Davis was then recalled.
The Coroner; "After hearing the evidence given this afternoon, is there anything you can suggest which might increase the safety of this area?"

"I fully support the suggestions made by Squadron Leader Wright, and I would like to go a step further and suggest, not one bouy, but a line of bouys, which would give the gunner a definite idea of the target line. They might start 300 yards from the shore, along the edge of the danger zone, and made distinguishable by some appropriate paint. A line of bouys is more important than one bouy."

Squadron Leader Davis added that to his knowledge the ranges at Leysdown had been in use for 17 years, and in intensive use for the last eight years. To the best of his knowledge he could say that this was the first accident of any kind that had occurred.

Mr Copland; "Don't you think the danger area might be considerably enlarged?"

"I consider that for the nature of the work it is quite satisfactory. A similar thing might happen however big the area. If the area could be increased it might be some advantage, I admit."

An explanation to clear up what appeared to be a contradictory point in the evidence was given by S. Ldr Davis, who explained that some time ago a bouy near the bombing target broke adrift. It was brought back and made fast to one of the gunnery targets, and on the day of the accident was floating upside down about 20 yards from the first target. Probably that was the object which one of the witnesses had thought to be the boat.

Coroner's summing up.
In his summing-up the Coroner said that they had the evidence of several witnesses who stated definitely that the boat was outside the danger zone-some 200 yards. That might or might not be right. Later on there were two witnesses in the 'planes who stated that the boat was inside the area. In that connection they had to consider the evidence of the pilot of Bohemia's machine and the explanation of Sqn Ldr Wright, that the boat was probably closer to the danger area, but not within it. Bohemia had given his evidence quite frankly, and it seemed that visibilty was not too good, because of the sun's glare on the water.

"Although to lay minds it seems almost incomprehensible that one could mistake a boat for a target at a height of 600 feet, those who have been in the air take a different view-that it is quite possible under certain conditions not to be able to distinguish between them. We must not lose sight of the fact that, travelling at 100 miles an hour, a gunner has got to take aim very rapidly indeed.

"We cannot bring back the dead, but we can do our best to prevent a recurrence of such a thing. Therefor, if you are impressed by the suggestions put forward for improving the safty of the danger area, you can direct me to send recommendations to the proper quarters."

The jury made only a brief retirement, and on returning, gave a verdict of Death from misadventure, with no blame attaching to the gunner. In a rider they agreed that a line of buoys might be placed as suggested, with no enlargement of the area, and also suggested that a fast motor boat be on duty when firing was taking place.

The Coroner:"The jury consider this was an accident, and attach blame to nobody. It is a horrible thing to happen at any time, but to happen under the circumstances in which it did, calls for the sympathy of everybody."

No 605 (County of Warwick) Squadron, Auxillary Air Force, based at Castle Bromwich, flying from Manston to use the Leysdown bombing and gunnery range. At the time the Squadron was flying the Westland Wapiti (although the exact aircraft involved has not been identified). John Bohemia - the air gunner who fired the fatal shot - died in 1964.

Sources:

1. http://www.rcawsey.co.uk/Acc1934.htm
2. http://www.kenthistoryforum.co.uk/index.php?topic=3877.0
3. http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,930125,00.html#ixzz0Z7S0EkRp


Revision history:

Date/timeContributorUpdates
20-May-2018 20:18 Dr. John Smith Added
20-May-2018 20:20 Dr. John Smith Updated [Time, Narrative]
09-Oct-2018 17:36 Nepa Updated [Operator, Operator]

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