Bomber pilot and aviation adventurer dies aged 91
A SECOND World War pilot who later experienced a remarkable escape when he narrowly missed flying the ill-fated plane carrying the 1958 Manchester United team home from Munich has died.
Peter Chisholm Ward, of Great Waldingfield, who had a long and distinguished aviation career, died on Saturday. He was 91.
He joined the RAFVR in 1939 and went on to crew and fly some of Britain’s most iconic bombers during the war.
As a sergeant navigator and bomb-aimer he flew in Blenheims with 43 Squadron for the first part of the war, moving on to Venturers and Wellingtons before transferring to South Africa as a pilot officer to learn to fly.
On his return to England he became a pilot in Bomber Command, taking part in Lancaster raids across Germany.
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After the war, Mr Ward gained his commercial pilot’s licence and went on to fly de Haviland Rapides for Air Services from Cardiff to Weston-Super-Mare.
He then established himself as a senior pilot with British European Airways (BEA), flying international routes from Croydon, Northolt and then Heathrow.
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After a flying stint with Gibraltar Airways in the late 1940s and early 1950s Mr Ward returned to England in 1952 to pilot BEA planes.
In 1958, he experienced an extraordinary stroke of luck. Scheduled to fly the “Busby Babes” – Manchester United’s start-studded young team – from Belgrade to London via Munich, he swapped rosters at the last minute with his friend Captain James Thain.
The plane crashed on a snow-bound Munich runway, killing 23 people, including eight players. Captain Thain survived, but his co-pilot died.
Mr Ward later became an airline training officer with the newly-formed British Airways (BA). In a twist of fate he found himself teaching German Lufthansa pilots how to fly transatlantic routes – many of whom were former Luftwaffe pilots in the Second World War.
After retiring from BA he helped rescue a Viscount passenger plane in Texas. Mr Ward’s friend Derek McBride, of Brent Eleigh, said: “The Viscount was pretty worn out and Peter grew thoroughly frustrated when an officious representative of the USA Federal Bureau of Aviation refused to give him a certificate of airworthiness. As far as Peter was concerned, any aircraft with one engine, one elevator, two wings and a rudder was airworthy.”
Mr McBride said he slipped through the net by saying he was arranging a test flight and delivered the plane to Gander, Newfoundland.
Mr Ward finally retired from flying at the age of 78, after clocking up 28,000 commercial flying hours.
Mr Ward, who moved to Brent Eleigh in 1996 before moving to Great Waldingfield this year, is survived by his second wife Linda and daughter Valerie.