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From picking turnips at Thurso to dragging people out of a plane crash

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Thurso’s Heritage by a Thirsa Loon

The aftermath, the Silver Ghost’s smoking wreckage, is studied by locals.
The aftermath, the Silver Ghost’s smoking wreckage, is studied by locals.

The morning of Saturday, July 1, 1937, likely started as usual for Sam Green, a farmer, and his son John at Stitley, near Thurso.

In the afternoon, the father and son were hoeing turnips, thinning them out in the field. While nearby, the Allied Airways Ltd pilot, Flight Lieut G Hinckley, of Normanton, Yorkshire, was finishing preparations to take off with his seven passengers – six ladies and one man aboard the Silver Ghost, which flew from Orkney to Thurso and Aberdeen.

But as the plane began its take-off for Aberdeen, dramatic events unfolded. The Silver Ghost failed to rise, and after crashing through three fences, it came to rest in the turnip field and immediately burst into flames.

Sam and John immediately rushed to the plane. They attacked the framework with their hoes and, with the help of William Mackay, a chauffeur of a car for conveying passengers to and from the aerodrome, were, not with some difficulty, successful in getting the seven passengers out of the plane.

It was down to this stroke of luck that the Greens were working in the field, and through their quick actions along with Mackay; fortunately, none of the passengers was seriously hurt.

John later told the events of the crash: “My father and I were thinning turnips in the field when we heard the noise of the plane. I saw it coming straight towards us. It never seemed to get away from the ground and crashed through three flagstone fences.

“We both got out of the way as the plane crashed in the field within 20 yards of where we had been working. Immediately, the plane stopped, the port engine caught fire while the starboard engine kept roaring away.

“We rushed towards the plane and by that time the flames had caught the cabin. My father wrenched the cabin door off. I opened the emergency exit on the roof of the cabin and pulled out a young lady. We could hear the voice of a woman inside crying for help as the flames licked the cabin.

“By this time, my father had extracted two or three of the passengers and pilot through the doorway while other passengers escaped through the emergency exit. Meanwhile, people from the landing-field, including William Mackay, James Mercer and Pilot Baillie, came running up to assist. As we hauled the last woman out of the cabin, her clothes were ablaze, and her skirt was burnt away. A few seconds later, the entire cabin was ablaze and a few minutes later, one of the petrol tanks exploded.

“It was fortunate that the passengers kept cool. There was no panic. If the passengers had not all kept their heads, they would not all have escaped.”

As soon as he got out, the pilot’s first act was to check the fire until the passengers escaped, bravely attempting to stop the starboard engine. Within 20 minutes of the crash, only the twisted skeleton of the plane remained.

Dr J G Macgregor (Castletown) and his son, Dr J Macgregor and Dr T C Findlay, of Thurso, were quickly on the scene attending to the passengers. Most of the passengers’ luggage was saved, but Mrs Banks and Mrs Murray lost their handbags containing sums of money. Just two weeks later, Mrs Murray would survive a second plane crash.

• To get in touch, contact thursoheritage1@gmail.com

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