G-AGRH Zephyr was the name of this modified Avro Tudor IV, the Super Trader IV, carrying twelve men and “top-secret” equipment for Woomera rocket range, crashing on April 23, 1959. The aircraft, owned by Air Charter Limited, had been fitted with an aft cargo door and was flown unpressurized. The plane departed Ankara for a flight to Bahrain, which was a leg of a long cargo flight from United Kingdom to Woomera Airfield in Australia. The intrigue of this crash stems from a cover-up to remove the wreckage with explosives, rather than any form of investigation, apparently risking the dangerous terrain and possibly being one of the firsts to climb it at all.
Between Ankara and Teheran, the aircraft used an air corridor which would take it over the middle of Lake Van, Turkey’s largest lake almost surrounded by mountains and situated close to the Soviet-Armenian border.
At 08:14, the aircraft passed over Gemerek at FL115 and Elazığ at 08:59 (at FL135). The last position report was received at 09:26 over Muş. The aircraft had crashed, and was found six days later on Mount Süphan, a little north of Lake Van.
Dizdar Köyü Yolu, Dizdar/Bitlis, Turkey
Latitude: 38.92 | Longitude: 42.82
See images above for location shots. Mount Süphan is a stratovolcano, located in eastern Turkey, immediately north of Lake Van. It is the second highest volcano in Turkey with an elevation of 4,058 m or 13,314 ft and has the second highest prominence of the Armenian Highland, after Mount Ararat.
All 12 passengers on board died, referred to as crewman in most articles. Some refer to them as “passengers, most crewman” implying multiple reasons for being on the aircraft.
RAF Forum user Moose47 shares the information that the Avro Tudor G-AGRH “Zephyr” was previously owned by British South American Airways. It was used during the Berlin Airlift where it flew 114 sorties. This breaks down to 322.13 flying hours and 1,134.2 tons of freight. The Tudor aircraft had a somewhat questionable lifetime, and included a major crash killing all 80 Welsh Football fans when the C of G was badly upset on the final ‘let down’.
BSAA’s new flagships received mixed reviews from pilots. Some greeted it with enthusiasm, such as Captain Geoffrey Womersley, who described it as “the best civil airliner flying.” Others rejected it as an unsound design. BSAA’s chief pilot and manager of operations, Gordon Store, was unimpressed:
“The Tudor was built like a battleship. It was noisy, I had no confidence in its engines and its systems were hopeless. The Americans were fifty years ahead of us in systems engineering. All the hydraulics, the air conditioning equipment and the recircling [sic] fans were crammed together underneath the floor without any thought. There were fuel-burning heaters that would never work; we had the floorboards up in flight again and again.”
After storage for some years at Manchester Airport, four ex-BSAAC Tudor IVs were bought by Air Charter in late 1953. They were fitted with 6 ft 10 in (2.08 m) by 5 ft 5 in (1.65 m) cargo doors aft by Aviation Traders and designated Super Traders IV or IVB, receiving their Certificate of Airworthiness in March 1955. These were operated by Air Charter Ltd on long distance freight flights as far as Christmas Island.
Some remained in service until 1959, until this G-AGRH “Zephyr” crashed in Turkey in 1959.
Rescue, Investigation and Cover-up
A special Royal Air Force mountain rescue team of six men from Nicosia, Cyprus reached the crash site at the top of the mountain some days later and demolished the plane wreckage with several explosives after retrieving several important documents.
An intensive search was initiated using Hastings of 70 Sqdn from Nicosia, Shackletons from Akrotiri, Bahrain and Luqa. The wreckage was spotted from a Hastings piloted by F/O George Noble on April 29th on a mountain north of Lake Van, Suphan Dagi (Mount Suphan). The wreck was at 13,00ft roughly 200 feet below the summit.
The Cyprus MR Team were sent to Turkey and managed to reach the crash site and using explosives dropped from a hastings they set charges and destroyed the wreckage.
For more information read “WHENSOEVER’ 50 Years of the RAF Mountain Rescue Service 1943-1993 by Frank Card. ISBN 0 948153 23 7
available from Frank Card, 25, Heycroft Drive, Cressing, Braintree, Essex CM7 8JN
Just a bit more info on this topic.
The Mountain Rescue Team Leader at Nicosia was F/Sgt Harry Appleby. The Team Officer was F/Lt Richard Robertson.
Some members of the first party to head up the mountain were Sgt Jack Emmerson(he had Himalayan experience) Cpl Derek Bottomer, Cpl Pete Whelan and Sac Fred Costall.
As mentioned previously, the demolition expert could not get to the crash site so explosives and fuses were dropped from a Hastings.
SAC Gordon Hercod and SAC George Murphy set the charges,’ lit the blue touch paper’ and retired to a safe distance. After the explosion they realised that one of the charges had not detonated so Hercod went back into the wreckage and reset the fuse.
Gordon Hercod received the Queen’s Commendation for Bravery.
Appleby, Emmerson and Murphy received BEMs.
Whelan and Bottomer received the Commander-in-Chief’s Commendation.
F/Lt Robertson was appointed MBE despite not having played a role comparable with that of Hercod and Murphy. Of course, he was an officer!!!
A very unfortunately anonymous user in January 2009 shared:
I was a member of the RAF Nicosia Mountain Rescue Team involved with 15/16 others on the Avro Tudor crash on Mt Suphan Dagi just north of Lake Van in South Eastern Turkey in late April 1959.
This caused an almighty “PANIC” in the Government and the Air Ministry at the time because of the type of cargo on its way to the testing range at Woomera in South Australia and the nearby Soviet/Armenian border.
Remember this happened during the so called “cold war” and during this time American CIA U2 Spy planes were regularly being flown into Soviet Airspace from joint USAF/TAF bases, remember the infamous “incident” when eventually Gary Powers U2 was shot down by a missile.
i have a lot of details about the Tudor crash/operation from day one to the return at RAF Nicosia, i am in contact with three other members who
were with me in the final party of six at the crash site.
I do have two so called reports/conclusions about the causes by people who were not there and some of it is not true, words like coverup and whitewash come to mind, i will be very happy to pass on further details if anyone is genuinely interested, lets not forget the twelve guys on board who lost their lives in that inhospitable place fifty years ago this coming April.
Terry K Offord shares:
I first learnt about the accident prior to leaving RAF Seletar in 1959, the news had been broadcasted on short wave radio, (I think it was about the third week in April of 1959), I was particularly interested in the accident through my hobby of tracking the growth of Charter Air Operators in U.K. since many of the companies were operated by ex RAF aircrew who had flown during and after WW2. which made this particular company of special interest.
G—Romeo Hotel’s skipper was Captain John Bridger although I believe that Mike Butcher DFC may have been the Co-Pilot, I regret the confusion here was due to the fact that a good friend of mine, one Captain Pat Falconer of DAN-AIR London had been playing cards with the crew on the evening prior to the flight in question, Pat assured me that the skipper of G-Romeo Hotel was Mike Butcher.
Further information concerning this FIT is available (perhaps?) from the ICAO Digest Circular 62-AN/57 (114-115).
There are finer and fuller accurate details on the flight/subsequent crash, available from several people on this very excellent forum, I would strongly recommend that all who are interested, especially in Flights into Terrain (FIT) make contact through these individuals who were actually involved in the recovery/destruction of the aircraft and its cargo.
As an ex Air Traffic Controller such incidents were of high importance if only to assist in preventing similar incidents in future.
Best regards for the searchers.
Terry K Offord
I was involved in the last six to get to the crash site where we stayed two nights and destroyed all we could of the secret cargo, also gathered up as much as we could of the documents that were lying about in the crash site.
On the way down we were caught in a blizzard and tried to dig snow holes but it was too hard, the weather cleared enough to fire a flare and it was seen at base camp and shortly after a Turkish Air Force helicopter found us and took us down to base camp two at a time,
( i haven’t stopped shivering since )
It was concluded that the aircraft, which had been flying on instruments, drifted north of its normal track because of strong winds and crashed into the mountain. Contributing factors were that the winds were stronger than forecast – an accurate bearing could not be obtained at Muş, and the wind forecast at Van had not been checked. Subnormal temperatures would result in a high indicated altimeter reading and calculations on the flight and contacts with beacons were not coordinated and controlled.
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