Crash pilot returns to county

A PILOT who narrowly escaped death when his aircraft crashed onto a Suffolk airfield 50 years ago has been reunited with the people who saved his life.

A PILOT who narrowly escaped death when his aircraft crashed onto a Suffolk airfield 50 years ago has been reunited with the people who saved his life.

John 'Nick' Carter's Gloster Meteor aircraft experienced difficulties while on a routine training exercise over Bentwaters Airfield with the 257 'Burma' squadron of RAF Wattisham on December 21 1954.

On Saturday members of the Wattisham Airfield Historical Society, the Suffolk Military Aviation Group and friends of the ex-pilot all gathered to remember his lucky escape nearly 50 years on.

Mr Carter, 74, who now lives in Maidenhead, said: "We had climbed to 35,000 feet in a battle formation and were turned to chase before returning to base. I followed the leader in a battle roll and the aircraft flipped and started to hurtle earthwards out of control."


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As he struggled to escape from the stricken craft he had trouble reaching the handle of the newly developed Martin-Baker ejector seat, leading to all future seats being fitted with two handles.

"At around 15,000 feet I still hadn't reached the firing handle of the ejector seat. In desperation I pushed my right arm up with my left and in doing so my arm smashed against the back of the seat.

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"I eventually reached the handle just as Bentwaters Airfield seemed to be right outside my cockpit. I thought I was a goner. When I was spiralling down I really thought I had had it. Funnily enough the only thing I could think about was my mother and what she would say when she heard the news that I had been killed. But luckily I pulled myself together and got back to the task in hand.

"Next thing I remember I was sitting in a parachute 500 feet above Rendlesham Forest. I had two bones sticking out of my arm and blood running down my flying suit."

Eyewitness Fred Pearce, who was working nearby at Eyke Rookery Farm, added: "I saw the four planes flying across and continued working. All of a sudden I heard this funny noise and realised that one of them was coming down.

"All six of us in the field fell to the ground thinking it was going to crash on top of us, but luckily the wind blew the aircraft into the nearby forest. Because I was on the floor I never actually saw Nick eject so when I saw the wreckage I thought he was a goner. It was a real mess."

Mr Carter, who also broke his leg upon landing, was later found by American troops from Bentwaters and taken to Ipswich Hospital, where he underwent surgery on his broken arm.

He left hospital after eight months and was transferred to Chantry Convalescent Home, where he was looked after by nurse Pam Keys.

Mrs Keys said: "The matron had been forewarned about Nick before he arrived so we knew he was going to be a bit of a character. He had quite a reputation and was always sneaking off to the pub across the road on the pretence that he was going for a walk in the park."

After a month Mr Carter left the home and returned to Wattisham to fly Hawker Hunters with 257 Squadron and was later sent to Jordan to train pilots for King Hussein's RJAF.

Ken Hayward, who was a crash fireman at Wattisham and organised the reunion, said: "Many of those here haven't seen Nick for 50 years and I thought it would be a good opportunity to get everyone together to remember the day and hear a quite remarkable story."

Mr Carter added: "I would like to say a very big thank-you to everyone for today and especially to Ken who organised everything. I never thought anything like this would happen, it's just so nice to be reunited again after all these years."

He has written a book on his experiences of flying the Gloster Meteor entitled Meteor Eject, priced £9.95, available from Woodfield Publishing at www.woodfieldpublishing.com.

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