On 4th February 1931, Blackburn Iris III (N238) crashed into Plymouth Sound at high speed due to pilot error.
Blackburn Iris Mk III
On the morning of 4th February 1931, a Blackburn Iris (N238), one of three from 209 Squadron, took off from Mount Batten flying boat base to undertake a training exercise with fighter aircraft from Roborough airfield.
After about an hour in the air, Wing Commander Charles Tucker took over the controls from the pilot Flt Lt. Ely to land the plane on the flat waters of Batten Bay just to the south of Mount Batten. The aircraft was put into a glide and the engines were shut off in the usual manner, but instead of levelling off she hurtled straight downwards into the sea. The Iris nosedived into the water at approximately 70 mph, hitting the water under the pilots seats, the tail came up and the wing crashed into the sea.
There was a terrific impact, a great fountain of water shot up into the air then there was a big explosion. The flying boat lurched, toppled onto its side then sank with eight men trapped in the cabin. After a brief pause, one of the aircraft's floats surfaced followed by the tip of the rudder and it lay half submerged and upside down, before turning on its side.
Wilfred Little, a harbour pilot and Harry Hole were sailing nearby and were the first on the scene of the incident and rescued two men clinging to the wings. The Mount Batten station commander and Aircraftsman Shaw (T.E. Lawrence) arrived in an RAF launch who saved two more.
The aircraft broke in half and the forward part was brought up the next day onto the slipway at Mount Batten, with the stern half and the bodies of the missing crew recovered later by salvage divers.
Eight of the twelve people on board perished in the crash and six bodies were never recovered, two of the crew are buried at Ford Park Cemetery:
Wing Commander Charles Gilbert Tucker (aged 44)
Flying Officer Frederick Kingsley Wood (aged 23) was rescued but died later in hospital
Sgt Edmund Walter Harris Wilson (aged 24)
L.A/C William Henry Stark (aged 22)
L.A/C Cecil Gwilym Davies (aged 22)
L.A/C Louis Charles Oates (aged 25)
L.A/C Harold Corrie Ongley (aged 25)
L.A/C William Sidney Rutledge (aged 24)
L.A/C William George Stevens
Flight Lt Maurice Hibbert Ely and Flight Lt Charles Ryley were both injured and Corporal William Mansell Barry escaped unhurt.
The weather at the time of the crash was fine and the sea calm. There was no mechanical fault in the plane and the cause was found to be pilot error as the Court of Inquiry showed that Tucker was a qualified pilot but not proficient in flying boats.
"Wing Commander C.G. Tucker was the pilot of the boat. The evidence shows clearly that he was not a competent pilot, and that he had no right to meddle with the controls at all, as he was flying merely as a marker for machine gun practice by the aircraftmen in the boat, and was only sitting in the seat usually occupied by the second pilot because that seat gives a better view."
"He (Tucker) tried to put the boat down on the water, using his authority as senior officer, and he put it down in the wrong way. Flight Lieutenant Ely, who was in the seat intended for the first pilot, endeavoured to correct his mistake, after having already signified that Wing Commander Tucker was doing the wrong thing".
Batten Bay, Plymouth Sound. This aircraft was salvaged.
Please note that all aircraft in UK waters that have crashed during military service are protected under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986.
Last updated 29 Aug 2021
Position GPS: Unknown
04 February 1931
Blackburn Iris MkIII flying boat
The Blackburn Aeroplane and Motor Co. Ltd, Brough, Yorkshire
209 (Flying Boat) Squadron
RAF Mount Batten, Plymouth
Wing Commander Charles Tucker
Duralumin hull, fabric covered wings
Three Rolls-Royce Condor IIIB inline piston engines
British Pathe Newsreel
A British Pathe newsreel showing the salvage of Blackburn Iris N238, click on the link below:.
Your email address will not be published.