The Crash

The Crash

The Derby Telegraph reported that Squadron Leader Findlay told the inquest Flt Lt Church was a very experienced pilot, flying since 1939, and that Barbara had approximately 150 hours flying, and was, “very capable and had the makings of a competent pilot.”

Eyewitness Raymond Harris, 47, of Heath Way, Hatton, said he saw the aircraft spinning down “slightly nose first”.

He added that he saw a lot of training aircraft and thought this one slightly lower than normal.

Mr Harris saw the canopy panels fly off at about 400 feet and added that the aircraft was still spinning when it hit. He ran to the aircraft and pulled Flt Lt Church’s body clear. The inquest heard that the dual-control aircraft had no mechanical defect.

Verdict: Accidental death.

Later, the official RAF inquiry concluded the crash was caused by “a failure of the human element” as there was no mechanical failure and no evidence to explain why the aircraft was spinning below the authorised height.

Air crash historian Pat Cunningham writes in his latest book, “Flight Lieutenant Church’s detail was to further familiarise his pupil with the complexities of spinning, essentially an out-of-control evolution.

“Contemporary rules demanded that practice spins should be entered at a minimum of 5,000 feet above ground level (AGL). The guidance read, ‘when you have come down to 3,000 feet, you must prepare to abandon …be sure… that you can be out of the aircraft by 1,000 feet’.

“It is intriguing to consider that she might well have been the first woman to be awarded RAF wings, a distinction to be gained just six months later by Pilot Officer Jean Lennox Bird.

“This was not to be the last spinning fatality, but certainly it helped raised awareness of this facet of flight safety, for shortly afterwards the rules would state unequivocally, ‘If spin recovery action has not been effective by 3,000 feet AGL, abandon the aircraft’.”

Pat’s book says of the Percival Prentice T1, “This 1946 two-side-by-side-seater, all-metal basic pilot trainer, replaced the Tiger Moth and Magister and was supplanted by the piston Provost. Powered by a 251 horsepower de Havilland Gypsy Queen 32, it had a service ceiling of 18,000 feet, cruised at 136 mph (118 knots) and had a maximum speed of 143 mph (124 knots).”

*White Peak Air Crash Sites by Pat Cunningham, Amberley Books, price £16.99, ISBN 978-1-4456-0655-2


Following cremation in Nottingham, Barbara’s ashes were brought home to Hedsor for her funeral.

Mourners included representatives from Nottingham University Air Squadron, High Wycombe Riding Club, Denham Flying Club and High Wycombe High School.

The Bucks Free Press reported that there were 88 floral tributes, many in the shape of propellers and wings, including ones from Nottingham University Chemistry Department, No16 Flying School Derby, No 65 Reserve Centre Alverston, Nottingham University Air Squadron, staff and pupils of Hedsor School, British Railways Maidenhead, Bourne End School, Denham Flying Club, Wycombe Flying Club, Marlow Hockey Club, High Wycombe High School, The Head Teachers’ Association, WRAFVR Burnaston, Nottingham University Rifle Club and High Wycombe Riding School.