This photograph shows what we believe the crew thought they would see as they approached
the coast. Thick cloud, but relatively clear visibility beneath -
The picture above is of a hillside on a very foggy day with a blanket of cloud about 300' asl. The hillside continues for several hundred feet upwards into the clouds, but if flying low over the sea, and relying on the forecast weather, there would be sufficient time to avoid an obstruction. Reducing height in this way while over the sea did not break any safety rules and was a standard flying procedure although not perhaps for a loaded passenger plane.
This early picture of Ventnor shows St Boniface Down looming up behind the town. The crash site is to the extreme right of the photograph. Although the top of the Down would have been obscured partially or completely, the crew would be expecting at least 2 or 3 times this distance of visibility from the photographer to the base of the Down as they approached the coast. With the town between them and high ground, there would have been little chance of missing the coast.
Unfortunately local visibility was like this.... a few feet. Out at sea it was even less.....
At the time of the accident, witnesses on the Down said visibility was almost nil and the cloud appeared to come down virtually to sea level with a base about 300 feet. Conditions were so bad that people within yards of the accident neither heard nor saw anything until alerted by someone literally on the spot. This is not uncommon on this coastline and a number of aircraft have hit the hills in dense fog.
It was later confirmed by an eye witness acting as a lookout on a Trinity House ship off the Needles at the Western end of the Island that the fog was actually on the sea and so thick that visibility was just a matter of feet and he couldn’t see the bow of the ship from the lookout position. The cloud and fog bank began almost at the start of the Island and had a defined edge so that the aircraft would suddenly have encountered a wall of cloud and far from having reasonable visibility below 600 feet, there was almost zero visibility at sea level.
If, as would seem likely the crew were relying on a weather forecast issued less than an hour before. The sudden change in visibility from the expected minimum of a mile, possibly as far as ten miles, was unexpected and the track of the aircraft as far as can be ascertained would indicate that they were turning away from the Island and climbing back to a safe height when they hit the Down. To be advised that the visibility was somewhere between one and ten miles and to find it nil might be considered to be a contributory factor although the enquiry made no mention of this and referred to the forecast as 'accurate'.
|Radio Hams Raise the Alarm|
|An Alternative Theory|
|Pressure On Crews|