Spitfire crash closes East Midlands Airport
HUNDREDS of travellers had their flights diverted after a World War Two Spitfire, belonging to Rolls-Royce, crash-landed at East Midlands Airport.
The vintage plane came in to land at the airport, where it is based, yesterday but the undercarriage collapsed.
The aircraft was left beached on the runway but the pilot was unhurt and the airport's own fire and rescue teams were called.
The runway was closed for more than two-and-a-half hours and flights were diverted to Birmingham.
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One witness to the crash was retired farmer Edward Coxon, who was at the airport plane-spotting.
The 65-year-old from Hartshorne said: "I had noticed the Spitfire in the air. I then looked through my binoculars and saw it stranded in the middle of the runway and surrounded by blue lights.
"I was looking forward to watching the planes coming in but they shut the runway as soon as the plane was down."
Former Derby Telegraph journalist Brian Patrick, of Kegworth, heard the plane flying overhead prior to the landing.
He said: "My son is an aviation enthusiast and came to tell me what had happened after speaking to someone at the airport.
"He said that a piece of the fuselage came loose as the plane landed.
"As the aircraft landed the shock was such that it would have left some debris on the runway which would need to be cleared.
"My understanding is that the plane was on a test run for future flights that would have taken place later this year."
The plane has a wingspan of 36ft 10ins, is 32ft 8ins long and weighs 8,600lbs. Its Rolls-Royce Griffon engines have 1,600 horse power.
Bought by the iconic Derby firm in 1996, it appears at air displays and charity events as well as corporate functions.
A spokesman for Rolls-Royce would not give any details about how the crash-landing happened but said that the pilot, who was the only person on board, was not hurt.
The spokesman said: "There have been no injuries and we will assist the relevant authorities with their inquires."
An airport spokesperson said: "The airport worked hard to remove the aircraft from the runway.
"During this time, flights were temporarily suspended, with seven aircraft diverted to Birmingham Airport.
"After a final runway inspection, flights resumed at 6pm."
Passengers travelling to Belfast were the last to leave the airport, on a coach bound for Birmingham, before it reopened.
David Spratt and wife Helen had flown over from Belfast to bring their daughter to university.
Mr Spratt said: "Our journey has been delayed but I'm just thankful that nobody was hurt in the crash."
Robert Taylor was another traveller bound for Belfast, who was delayed.
He said: "I have been stranded with fog but never has it been a crashed vintage Spitfire on the runway.
"But what's a couple of hours when it could have been someone's life?"
A spokesman for the Air Accident Investigation Bureau said it would be looking into the circumstances of the incident and a report would be filed in due course.
The Rolls-Royce Spitfire, PS853, is an unarmed, high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft, one of a batch of 79 built at Supermarine, Southampton.
It is powered by a 2,050hp Griffon engine with a top speed of 446mph and is capable of flying at 42,000ft.
PS853 was delivered to the Central Photographic Reconnaissance Unit at RAF Benson on 13th January 1945, before moving to Belgium and Holland.
The aircraft was engaged on active service with 16 Squadron until the end of the war and participated in Operation Crossbow to detect German launch sites.
At the end of the war it remained on duty in Germany until March1946 when it returned to the UK and was placed in storage.
In 1950, PS853 was one of several Spitfires selected for conversion to conduct meteorological research, known as the Temperature and Humidity of the Upper Air Masses (THUM) Flight. PS853 performed the last ever Spitfire THUM sortie on 10th June 1957.
It then retired into ceremonial and display duties to form the RAF's Historic Aircraft Flight, the forerunner of today's Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.
In 1996, Rolls-Royce bought PS853 to replace the original Rolls-Royce Spitfire XIV, G-ALGT, which had been destroyed in a crash in 1992.
The Rolls-Royce Spitfire, as PS853 is now popularly known, has become widely recognised as an ambassador for Rolls-Royce.
The aircraft is based in a dedicated hangar at East Midlands Airport and can be seen around the display circuit between April and October.