(Both Crew Members Lost)
The following is a personal testimony of Alan Briggs. Manager RNAY Sydenham, Belfast. 1964/1969.
In your accidents you have XJ558 as crashed in Belfast Lough. XJ558 was converted from Mk 1 to Mk 2 in G Shop at RNAY Sydenham (Belfast) which was on the South side of the aerodrome. It was on its test flight after having the frangible hatch modification fitted and both crew were RN officers.
I well remember that day & the subsequent events as my wife ended up as a witness on the Board of Inquiry. Take off was about 10am and everything appeared normal – practically everyone who could be was out watching as this was the first aircraft to be converted by us. After T/O we all went back to work except for the waiting groundcrew.
It eventually came out that verbal contact with the A/c & radar tracking (RAF Bishops Court) was lost about 10.30am (RAF said a/c disappeared in the vicinity of Luce Bay on the Scottish side of the Irish Sea). Anyway bingo time came and went with no return. Those of us not involved went home at 5pm as usual with sad hearts.
When I got home I told my wife that we had lost a Vixen & she said she had seen one about 11am. I said she couldn’t have as it had disappeared over Luce Bay about 10.30. Wife climbs on high horse and said I was outside cleaning the lounge window when Alison (our daughter) said Daddies plane, I looked up and there it was heading towards Bangor. I asked her 2 questions. What time was it & did she notice anything peculiar about it. She said it was just before 11 because I wanted to listen to Mrs Dale`s Diary on the radio at 11 & the only white bit on it was the tail. She was right as only the underside of the tailplane had been painted the rest was in natural metal.
Next day I told my boss this; he looked at me and picked up the phone. Next thing I knew the RN Captain of the base walked into my office and asked me if I would accompany him to my home so that he could speak with my wife. This we did, in fact my wife was brought in to the Yard and I was told to sit down & say nothing whilst she was questioned. It later transpired that 2 other people had seen an aircraft about the same time as my wife – 1 to the North of Belfast, 1 to the West of Belfast & my wife to the South.
Parties from the Yard scoured the Down Peninsula looking for anything, I myself took part in the search of the Rathlin Islands with the crew of the RNLI Lifeboat launched from Donaghadee but nothing was found. A memorial service was held & eventually the wreck was found in the sea 7miles off the Copeland Islands. We were never told if the bodies were recovered though there was a rumour that a parachute had been recovered. The wreck was brought back to Sydenham & locked in one of the small blister hangars at the west gate from where it was eventually shipped out.
Much later the Rolls Royce rep told us that both engines had been running when the a/c hit the sea. I`m sorry but I cant remember the crews names.