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F-86 Sabres XD707 and XD730, Kinder Scout
Page updated October 2023, please scroll down for new photos and grid refs.
22 July 1954. Four RAF Sabre jets from No 66 Squadron had taken part in “Exercise Dividend” practicing air defences against a simulated attack on Britain by Soviet nuclear bombers. It was a huge undertaking, the largest since the war and a total of 6 aircraft across the country were lost that day, two of them here on Kinder Scout in the Derbyshire Peak District.
Upon completion of the exercise the jet fighters were heading back to base at RAF Linton-on-Ouse. Split into pairs, Flying Officer James Desmond Horne (XD707) led Flight Lieutenant Alan Green (XD730) down through dense cloud at around 6pm. Although advised by the leader of the other pair of jets not to descend below 3,800ft, F/O Horne’s radio had not been working very well and so may have misheard the advice.
The Sabres were seen tearing 1000ft above the Kinder Reservoir having dropped through the clouds, apparently unaware of the steeply rising plateau directly in front of them. It appears F/O Horne saw the slope at the last instant and pulled up sharp.
Exactly what happened is not known but the jets collided and tumbled out of control, down from the plateau edge and onto the moor below. No-one knows for sure what happened. A body and the wrecked aircraft were discovered 3 days later by a hill walker.
The keeper at Kinder Reservoir, Mr Vernon Bennett, had seen two aircraft above him. The crash occurred on Thursday 22 July 1954 but bad weather had hampered search efforts. Collier cites the official record saying that two climbers had met a rambler who said he had seen the aircraft collide. Amid the noise he saw the aircraft touch, then “one went into a flat spin while the other began to roll. The whole scenario had been quickly swallowed up in the cloud.”
The following Sunday, Mr Atkin was walking from Ashop Head along The Edge, to Fairbrook Naze. He saw something white ahead of him, which turned out to be a partially deployed parachute with the body of the pilot close by and he descended to the Snake Inn and dialled 999 to report the accident. The weather report for that day was heavy rain and cloud, with strong winds.
I once had the opportunity to speak with a former USAF Colonel who used to fly F-86 Sabres, he said generally they were about 10 feet apart when flying in formation – and that at a cruising speed of 500 mph.
You can follow the trail from the point of impact on the plateau down to Black Ashop Moor, there are fragments all the way down over a distance of about 1km.
SK 06926 89664 – Impact site
SK 07268 90236 – Wings, engine, landing gear.
SK 07300 90100 – Debris, electrical components
SK 07548 90390 – Engine in boggy area
See further below, update October 2023 for more grid references.
Below; The impact site.
Looking back along the line the aircraft tumbled onto Black Ashop Moor from the Kinder Scout plateau. The two Sabres crashed on the higher ground right above the corner having pulled up sharply from the other side to clear it. The wreckage is spread over a good kilometre from the impact site.
Below; Propped up fuselage sections
Looking towards the north-eastern corner of Kinder Scout.
XD 727, another F-86 Sabre from No 66 Squadron.
© Crown copyright 2010
No 66 Squadron lost two pilots flying in formation over the area a few years earlier, when
Gloster Meteors WA791 and VZ518 crashed on Black Hill in 1951.
For a long time the engine in the lead photo was upended in the bog.
UPDATE 08 OCTOBER 2023
Yesterday I made a sunrise visit to the crash site, walking in the dark along the Pennine Way hoping to photograph the debris in the early morning light. However, as is often the case here, the clear skies and 21 degrees forecast did not happen. I managed a couple of dull snaps before a shroud of cloud covered the whole of Kinder Scout. So instead, I climbed up the steep escarpment along the line the aircraft fell, to note the other pools of debris and to provide some more grid references.
Dawn at the site.
This bit of debris was at grid reference SK 07138 89955. Circled you can just make out the debris at the terminal site.
This debris pool is at SK 07014 89796
And this one at SK 06980 89720
Substantial remains at grid reference SK 06954 89704
Below: at the impact site there are fragments of metal and rubber all around. This piece of debris is the first bit of debris on the moor. Or the last, depending on how you approach the site. It is at grid reference SK 06954 89704. The climb up from Black Ashop Moor was a slog, there are easier ways up to the plateau. If wanting to follow the trail, I’d recommend starting here at the impact point and descending to the terminal sites.
This view is taken from Ashop Head and the top of William Clough where the paths cross. The conditions in which Sabres XD707 and XD730 crashed were probably similar. They approached from the right having been seen above Kinder Reservoir, F/O Horne pulled up the moment he saw the hillside in front of him and cleared the moor, but the aircraft collided nonetheless.