Deuchar, Alexander

Deuchar, Alexander             1917 November 30th

Aeroplane Disaster – Pilot’s Death in Salisbury

As briefly reported in the Salisbury Times last week, a fatal aeroplane accident occurred in the city on Thursday afternoon, resulting in the death of the pilot, Captain Alexander Guthrie Deuchar, aged 27, of the Northern Cyclists Battalion, and attached to the Royal Flying Corps.

The Deputy Coroner for Salisbury (Mr F H Trethowan) held an inquest at the Council Chamber on Friday evening.

Mr W J Saunders was appointed foreman of the jury.

Major Maxwell Scott, commanding a squadron of the Royal Flying Corps, stationed at Old Sarum, gave evidence of identification. He said Captain Deuchar was an experienced pilot, and had returned from duty with the RFC overseas. Witness was flying at the time of the accident, and on landing at the aerodrome it was reported to him, in consequence of which he proceeded to the scene and found the machine in flames. On his directions the body was removed to the mortuary.

Captain H Hemming, Worcester Regiment, attached RFC, at Old Sarum, said he sent Captain Deuchar up for a flight on Thursday afternoon. This was the first solo flight he had made since his last medical board. He was an experienced pilot and had flown overseas. Witness had given him four and a quarter hours’ instruction, and had been with him as passenger for 30 minutes before the flight in question. He was very keen to go up by himself, and as he flew the machine and landed successfully witness asked him if he would like to go up alone then or would wait until the next day. Captain Deuchar said he would like to go up then, and he did so. When witness was flying the machine it was absolutely sound ; in fact it was the best machine they had in the Flight. The Captain had been flying for about ten minutes before the accident occurred.

Air Mechanics proved that the rigging and engine of the aeroplane were in good order before it was used for the last flight.

Mrs Esther Blades, wife of PC Blades, L & SWR Police, of 16, Sidney Street, said she was walking along Castle Road in the direction of Salisbury at about four o’clock on Thursday afternoon, when she noticed an aeroplane in difficulties. It was flying towards a field and appeared as if it were going to nose-dive, but it suddenly spun round three or four times and crashed to the ground. This was followed by an explosion. She scrambled through the hedge and rushed towards the machine, which soon burst into flames. Some men tried to raise the wreckage from the pilot’s body. She could not at first see the pilot because of the flames and smoke, but she afterwards saw him move towards her, as if he was going to crawl. He lifted his head and looked at her. She tried to help him but could not do anything because of the heat. He was conscious for a short time and seemed to recognise the fact that somebody was near him.

The Coroner : Was it quite impossible for you or the men to do anything at all?

Witness : Quite impossible.

William Frederick Thorne, a retired farmer, of Salisbury, said he saw the machine go round in a half circle and then pitch to the ground, after which it spun round. He ran towards it and heard the pilot cry out. Before he reached it flames burst out. Three or four men tried to lift up the machine, and they succeeded to some extent, and then had to let it down again. Witness tried to pull the pilot out, but he could not move him ; in fact he thought he was then dead. He saw the man move his head and hand slightly after he arrived on the scene, but owing to the flames it was impossible to get near him.

Captain G Dimond, Essex Regiment and RFC, stationed at Old Sarum, said he was flying at the time of the accident at a height of about 1000 feet, and Captain Deuchar was also in a machine at the same height. When witness first noticed him he was preparing to turn to the left. The tail of the machine immediately swung to the right, the nose went down, and the machine started spinning slowly towards the earth. Witness formed the opinion that the pilot was endeavouring to get out of the spin by nose-diving the machine, which was the best way to get out of a spin. He appeared to regain control of the machine, but after flying level for a few seconds the machine stalled, and fell over to the right, having lost flying speed whilst the pilot was trying to put his engine on. After falling to the right the machine started to spin very rapidly, and finally crashed to earth. Witness thought the machine burst into flames four or five seconds after it struck the ground. The petrol, which probably caught fire by getting on to the hot engine, burnt fiercely, and it was quite impossible for anybody to do anything, because they could not get near it.

The witness added that Captain Deuchar was strapped in the machine, but the strap had a safety device which enabled a pilot to release himself. The safety belt had saved many hundreds of lives in crashes, by preventing the pilot from being thrown out of the machine, and probably being badly injured. He thought that in this case the pilot was pinned in his seat by the wreckage. He sent for the Salisbury Fire Brigade to deal with the fire.

Captain P C Cope, RAMC, on temporary duty at the Old Sarum aerodrome, said he examined the body and found that the burns were sufficient to cause death, which was probably due to shock.

A verdict of “Accidental death” was returned by the jury.

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