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Three Fairly Battle aircraft flying in formation

Three Fairly Battle aircraft flying in formation

Photo: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

'Death by misadventure' at RAF Abingdon

5 June 2021 (Updated 7 September 2021)

A tragic accident cost the life of New Zealand-born Peter Shennan at RAF Abingdon on 5 April 1939.

Shennan was a Pilot Officer in 15 Bomber Squadron, and on 5 April was performing bombing practice in a three-seater Fairey Battle plane piloted by Flying Officer Paul Chapman.

Disaster strikes

The plane had successfully completed three bombing runs and was about 1.5 miles from the airfield when Chapman put the aircraft into a dive in order to gain speed. At this point Chapman noticed something falling out of the rear cockpit behind him, and on banking the aircraft around to get a better look at what had fallen was horrified to see the body of his friend falling towards the ground.

Shennan's body landed in a field near Lashford Lane, to the North West of the airfield. He died on impact.

Chapman is cleared of wrongdoing

In the investigation into the accident, it was noted that Shennan had been wearing a flying suit which did not have the facility to be secured to the in-cockpit anchoring point. Chapman was cleared of any wrongdoing and the cause of death was recorded as 'death by misadventure'.