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Remembered Today:

15-16,000 feet


Tom Tulloch-Marshall

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BE2a "blown apart by petrol explosion" at 15-16,000 feet. What would be left of the pilot and observer after they hit the ground ? Would they be identifiable ? (By somebody with photographs of them - no other info).

Anybody got any evidence as to what might be expected ?

Tom

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What a gruesome question!

The bodies and debris would fall at terminal velocity, less any air resistance due to shape, spread etc. So on hitting the ground, would be no more mashed up by impact than, say, someone who jumped off a tall building?

If they landed face down, ID might be difficult. But I seem to recall most falling bodies don't. Also, did the petrol explosion blow them out of the plane intact, or set them on fire? Burning wouldn't help.

I have to ask - why do you want to find out?

Regards

Ian

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if that's not enough, there is probably much more "evidence" available from WW2 situations, where that height was fairly common especially for bomber crews over the Continent.

There again, so many variables that you could perm any one from hundreds....

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Trying to think how a BE2 could be blown apart by a petrol explosion at that height. Fall in flames quite possibly or if the tank was quite empty - full of vapour - and hit by a bullet from an enemy aircraft possibly. An AA shell hitting the tank would do it but at that altitude?

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Moreover the service ceiling for a BE2a was 10,000 ft so how did it get so high?

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Drake Goodman has an amazing set of WWI photos & postcards which may be relevant. Just had a quick peek and there are a few nasty shots - not for the squeamish. Some details given for dates, locations, pilots and aircraft ID but unlikely to give the height fallen.

Aircraft are HERE

Other subjects HERE

TEW

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It is very hard to describe air crash victims. It depends on a number of factors such as their "condition" when they exited the aircraft. If the aircraft exploded I would expect to find just "bits"

If the victim was slowed down to any extend by obstructions or being attached to something that would retard their descent to some extent then injuries can differ.

The surface they hit and angle of "attack" also play a part

and can be varied for the same reasons as being slowed.

If in the case of a straight vertical drop which I assume is the case here, even the clothing they are wearing can make a difference to what "stays together"

Having seen the results of an aircraft crash myself it is Bloody messy and not an image I care to remember.

I am retired now but the results of that crash is one of the images that still wakes me at night, and after 30 years as a copper I have seen plenty of gruesome sights!!!!

Just imagine people but basically inside out!

I'll go and curl up in a corner now and whimper a bit..... :unsure::poppy:

Brian

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It is very hard to describe air crash victims.

One of the challenges facing a translator is to find suitable words to convey concepts accurately and at the same time appropriately in the particular context. In the days when I used to translate air accident reports, I remember spending hours going through reports written in English to try and find suitably 'scientific' terms to render the concept of 'smashed to pieces'. I recall descriptions such as 'catastrophic disruption of physical integrity', 'unsurvivable impact trauma' and 'multiple traumatic injuries'.

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Tom, to get to the nub of your question, "would they be recognisable?" then the answer is "probably".

The explosion of a petrol tank would not cause blast injury, though there could be mutilation and disfigurement from fragmentation and secondary projectiles, and (of course) burning. Helmets/face masks/goggles would inhibit the short term burning.

A height such as either you or Centurion suggest would ensure that the falling bodies reached terminal velocity - between about 120 mph and 200 mph depending entirely on the attitude of the body during the fall. What the bodies hit on the ground - and whether they fell face down - would obviously affect whether they could be recognised.

Falls from such heights, and much greater, have been survived; the case which always occurs to me is that of F/Sgt Nicholas Alkemade who decided to leave his turret at 18000 feet rather than burn to death when he couldn't reach his parachute. That was about 1943 and I think he lived until the present century - certainly until the 1990s. The Google Jockeys will help us out with that.

One of my chaps fell 10000 feet (or thereabouts - I have the Board of Inquiry report somewhere) and suffered failure of main and reserve on to ground with a sandy substrate. I saw his body not too long afterwards, and his face was recognisable and presentable enough for his wife and family to see before his coffin was closed.

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Alkemade was fortunate to land through a canopy of thick fir trees which were pliant enough to give but sufficiently resilient to break his speed. Two more WW2 airmen who survived a parachuteless fall landed in snow drifts in the north one Russian (from a Stormovick). and I think another Brit Two WW1 airmen (names lost) did the same feat from Zeppelins one landing (if that's the right word) in the North Sea and being picked up unconscious by the RN and one over Northern France crashing through the attic roof of a nunnery and landing in an, unoccupied, nun's bed ( where it seems he was roundly ticked off by the Mother Superior).

However I would like the details and source of the original story as I have never seen an account of a BE2a fuel tank exploding, catching fire maybe, and the altitude mentioned is way beyond that which a BE2a could reach with two men on board.

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If the fire is wrongly described and it was a fire in the engine, would this type of plane be able to glide down?

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If the fire is wrongly described and it was a fire in the engine, would this type of plane be able to glide down?

Depends on how bad the fire. The BE2a was very stable and could certainly glide well with the engine off. However the 15,000 to 16,000 foot does not appear credible.

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Maybe the source will be forthcoming!

It could well be, when I get back to the pc tomorrow. (In the meantime, another post scored without too much effort :whistle: ).

Could be that Fritz claimed a BE2a when in fact it was a de Havilland, of course.

Tom

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... What would be left of the pilot and observer after they hit the ground ? Would they be identifiable ? (By somebody with photographs of them - no other info).

Anybody got any evidence as to what might be expected ?

Just a reminder there of what the question actually is :thumbsup:

Whether the RFC Officer who gave the witness statement below was correct or not about the "explosion" or the exact height at which it took place doesn't really concern me - its the possibility of post-crash identifications which is relevant to my interest in the case.

post-108-0-13496200-1389278499_thumb.jpg

Now, back to the question of identification ...

Tom

Edited by Keith Roberts
forum rules - respect for other members
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Just a reminder there of what the question actually is :thumbsup:

Whether the RFC Officer who gave the witness statement below was correct or not about the "explosion" or the exact height at which it took place doesn't really concern me - its the possibility of post-crash identifications which is relevant to my interest in the case.

attachicon.gif1 RFC GWF 2014_010325-12-130088.JPG

Now, back to the question of identification ...

Tom

Perhaps they were actually at 1,600 feet rather than 16,000? Either way, there seems to be good points made thus far that he very well may have been identifiable post-impact depending on whether the plane actually blew up or not, and ground conditions where he landed, etc.. I would also think that there may have been sufficiently distinctive clothing or other items on the body to aid in identification as well, even if the body itself was not recognizable.

-Daniel

Edited by Keith Roberts
quotation edited as previous post
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Well it would have been a lot clearer if you hadn't said he was in a BE2a. It may be mildly pedantic to point out that the document does not identify what kind of aircraft. The BE2a had long since been retired from active service by September 1917. Indeed by that date BE2s were well on the way to being replaced by the RE8. And yes it does matter to your enquiry what kind of aircraft it was as the position of the crew vis a vis the fuel tank could well determine how recognisable the bodies were.

Edited by Keith Roberts
response to edited comment in earlier post removed removed
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Tom, this is obviously in respect of your other thread regarding the two Special Memorial headstones in Cabaret Rouge for these men.

You'll note that the eyewitness report you show is written from the RFC Hospital at Mount Vernon.

All it confirms is that their aircraft was in his formation when it exploded in pieces "south east of La Bassee".

That gives a very wide area in which they could have fallen, so it's more than likely that identification wasn't facial but from possessions on the bodies...

There was this casualty who may well have been with Pfeiffer

WILLIAMS, ARTHUR TREVOR. Rank: Second Lieutenant. Date of Death: 04/09/1917. Age: 21.
Regiment/Service: Royal Flying Corps. 25th Sqdn. and 15th Bn. Royal Welsh Fusiliers
Grave Reference: VI. A. 2. Cemetery: LAPUGNOY MILITARY CEMETERY
Additional Information: Son of Henry E. and Margaret A. Williams, of 94, Anfield Rd., Liverpool.
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I guess that I may have fallen foul of the forum vernacular in my earlier answer. Referring to "one of my chaps" may give the impression that I speak of a WW1 serviceman whose trail I am following.

I didn't mean that; I mean one of my serving colleagues was killed, falling from an aircraft. He suffered massive decceleration injury when he hit the ground, but had no injuries from any other cause as he had exited a serviceable aircraft.

I saw his body.

He was recognisable.

It is impossible to know what variables or other factors applied in the case you are researching, but I am telling you that it is possible to recognise the facial features of a man that has fallen from a great height, and that, I think, answers your question as well as it can now be answered.

If there was a petrol tank explosion which blew the BE apart, then the crew would have only been in the fireball for a second or two. If they were at 16000 they would have been helmeted, goggled and masked which would have protected skin from burning. A petrol explosion will not cause blast injury.

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I guess that I may have fallen foul of the forum vernacular in my earlier answer. Referring to "one of my chaps" may give the impression that I speak of a WW1 serviceman whose trail I am following.

I didn't mean that; I mean one of my serving colleagues was killed, falling from an aircraft. He suffered massive decceleration injury when he hit the ground, but had no injuries from any other cause as he had exited a serviceable aircraft.

I saw his body.

He was recognisable.

It is impossible to know what variables or other factors applied in the case you are researching, but I am telling you that it is possible to recognise the facial features of a man that has fallen from a great height, and that, I think, answers your question as well as it can now be answered.

If there was a petrol tank explosion which blew the BE apart, then the crew would have only been in the fireball for a second or two. If they were at 16000 they would have been helmeted, goggled and masked which would have protected skin from burning. A petrol explosion will not cause blast injury.

Could an explanation for the explosion have been the plane's own ammunition detonating on board their aircraft?

Daniel

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If it was only machine gun ammunition, no.

Small arms ammunition placed in a fire does not "detonate". It deflagrates.

To get a "bang" the cartridge case needs to be contained in a chamber.

A round of ammunition placed on a fire will whoosh and the bullet may be ejected, but with very little force - not enough to pierce the side of a light cardboard box. The primer may go off with a crack, but with minimal force.

There's a lot of popular misunderstanding about this.

A black powder cartridge ( the old fashioned "gunpowder") might go off with a bang in a fire, but after ca 1890 all military ammunition, and most sporting ammunition, was charged with the slower burning "smokeless" propellants.

Where is Tony E when you need him ? Help !

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Now that Tom has given us sight of the original reference and his erroneous BE2a reference can be consigned to the waste bin then its possible to say that the possibility of a fuel tank exploding at 16,000 feet is much more likely (still not a common occurrence but credible especially if hit by sustained fire from a number of Albatross fighters). I'd be interested to know if they were flying an Airco Dh 4 the fuel tank of which appears to have been more vulnerable than most.

The bodies would be likely to be more recognisable if thrown clear by the blast rather than being trapped in a burning aircraft as it fell as they would the scorched rather than charred. Bodies of other WW1 airmen who fell from aircraft have often been described as recognisable, some unfortunates indeed lived for a very short time after the impact.

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If it was only machine gun ammunition, no.

Small arms ammunition placed in a fire does not "detonate". It deflagrates.

To get a "bang" the cartridge case needs to be contained in a chamber.

A round of ammunition placed on a fire will whoosh and the bullet may be ejected, but with very little force - not enough to pierce the side of a light cardboard box. The primer may go off with a crack, but with minimal force.

There's a lot of popular misunderstanding about this.

A black powder cartridge ( the old fashioned "gunpowder") might go off with a bang in a fire, but after ca 1890 all military ammunition, and most sporting ammunition, was charged with the slower burning "smokeless" propellants.

Where is Tony E when you need him ? Help !

Thanks, as you may have guessed, not an area I knew much about.

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