G-AHNP "Star Tiger"


G-AHNP "Star Tiger"

Infobox Airliner accident|name=G-AHNP "Star Tiger"
Date=January 30, 1948
Type=Unknown
Site=Atlantic ocean
Fatalities=31
Injuries=0
Aircraft Type=Avro Tudor Mark IV
Operator=BSAA
Tail Number=G-AHNP
Passengers=25
Crew=6
Survivors =0

G-AHNP "Star Tiger" was an Avro Tudor Mark IV passenger aircraft owned and operated by British South American Airways Corporation (BSAA) which disappeared without trace over the Atlantic Ocean while on a flight between Santa Maria in the Azores and Bermuda on January 30, 1948. The loss of the aircraft along with that of BSAA Avro Tudor "Star Ariel" in 1949 remain unsolved to this day, with the resulting speculation helping to develop the Bermuda Triangle legend.

Background

British South American Airways (BSAA) was an airline created by former World War II pilots in an effort to provide service on the previously untapped South American trade and passenger routes. Originally named British Latin American Air Lines (BLAIR) it was split off from the British Overseas Airways Corporation to operate their South Atlantic routes. It commenced transatlantic services in March 1946, with a BSAA plane making the first operational flight from London's Heathrow Airport. The airline operated mostly Avro aircraft: Yorks, Lancastrians and Tudors, and flew to Bermuda, the West Indies and the western coast of South America.

Flight

"Star Tiger" was one of three enlarged and improved versions of the Avro Tudor, designated Mark IVs. It had made eleven transatlantic flights, a total of 575 hours flying time, since its initial test flight on 4 November 1947.

On the morning of 28 January 1948, the crew and passengers boarded "Star Tiger" at Lisbon only to be forced to return to the airport waiting room when the pilot, Captain Brian W. McMillan, told them that the port inner engine needed some attention. The aircraft took off 2½ hours later, and made what was intended to be a 75 minute refuelling stop at Santa Maria in the Azores. However, the reported weather was so poor that Captain McMillan decided they should stop over until the next day.

The following day, 29 January, "Star Tiger" took off for the next leg of its flight to Bermuda despite strong winds. McMillan had decided to fly at no more than convert|2000|ft|abbr=on so as to avoid the worst winds. An Avro Lancastrian belonging to BSAA piloted by Frank Griffin took off an hour ahead of the "Star Tiger", and Griffin had agreed to radio weather information back to "Star Tiger".

"Star Tiger" took off at 15:34 and soon after takeoff was lashed by heavy rain and strong winds. At first some 200 miles behind the Lancastrian, McMillan slowly closed the distance between them and both aircraft remained in radio contact with each other and Bermuda.

By 01:26 on 30 January, after 10 hours in the air, "Star Tiger" was only convert|150|mi|abbr=on behind the Lancastrian. The navigator of the Lancastrian managed to fix their position using celestial navigation and found that the winds had blown the aircraft convert|60|mi|abbr=on of their track in the previous hour. By this time, "Star Tiger" had passed its Point of No Alternative, at which it could have diverted to Newfoundland, and was committed to remaining on course for Bermuda.

At about 02:00 Cyril Ellison, "Star Tiger's" navigator [Ottaway and Ottaway, 143, 151] , fixed the aircraft's position and learned that they too had been blown off course and were crabbing away from Bermuda. He gave McMillan a new course which turned the aircraft directly into a gale. However, McMillan still expected to reach Bermuda with at least an hour's worth of fuel remaining.

At 03:00 Captain Griffin aboard the Lancastrian amended his ETA from 03:56 to 05:00, and called "Star Tiger" to say that he was switching to voice telephony to contact Bermuda Approach Control. Griffin later testified that he heard nothing from "Star Tiger" to indicate that it was in trouble and that from then until he touched down at 04:11 his own aircraft encountered no turbulence, icing, fog or electrical storms.Orange, p. 252]

Loss

At 03:04 Radio Officer Robert Tuck aboard "Star Tiger" requested a radio bearing from Bermuda, but the signal was not strong enough to obtain an accurate reading. Tuck repeated the request eleven minutes later, and this time the Bermuda radio operator was able to obtain a bearing of 72 degrees, accurate to within 2 degrees. The Bermuda operator transmitted this information, and Tuck acknowledged receipt at 03:17. This was the last communication with the aircraft. [Ottaway and Ottaway, 153] The Bermuda operator tried to contact "Star Tiger" at 03:50 and receiving no reply, thought that it had gone over to direct radio contact with Bermuda Approach Control. However, Approach Control reported that this was not the case. The Bermuda radio operator tried at 04:05 to contact "Star Tiger", again without success, and after trying again at 04:40 he declared a state of emergency. [Ottaway and Ottaway, 153] He had heard no distress message, and neither had anyone else, even though many receiving stations were listening on "Star Tiger's" frequency.

earch attempts

The USAAF personnel operating the airfield immediately organized a rescue effort that lasted for 5 days despite worsening weather. Twenty-six aircraft flew 882 hours in total and surface craft also conducted a search, but no signs of "Star Tiger" or her 29 passengers and crew were ever found.

A merchant ship, SS "Troubador", had reported seeing a low flying aircraft with lights blinking about halfway between Bermuda and the entrance to Delaware Bay, which meant that if the aircraft was "Star Tiger", then it had gone well off-course from Bermuda.Fact|date=September 2008

Investigation

As soon as it was learned that the "Star Tiger" had been lost, BSAA's remaining Avro Tudors were grounded by Britain's Minister of Civil Aviation. They were permitted to carry cargo rather then passengers a few weeks later, but had to fly from Santa Maria to Bermuda via Newfoundland, a diversion that reduced the longest overwater leg by convert|250|mi|abbr=on.Orange, p. 254]

Although Avro's managing director, Sir Roy Dobson, and Don Bennett of BSAA both publicly regretted any implication that the aircraft had been faulty, the Minister decided that a judicial investigation into the cause of the incident was necessary, the first such since the loss of the airship R101 in 1930. Bennett objected so strongly to this that BSAA fired him.

Lord Macmillan was appointed to head the investigation, assisted by two assessors in the form of a Professor of Aviation from the University of London and the Chief Pilot of British European Airways.

The investigation, which was held in public at Church House, Westminster, opened on 12 April 1948 and lasted 11 days. On 21 August they presented their report to Lord Pakenham, who had succeeded Lord Nathan of Churt as Minister of Civil Aviation. The report emphasized that the crew of the "Star Tiger" were highly experienced, and found "want of care and attention to detail" in the flight plan, but nothing serious enough to explain the accident.

The Civil Air Ministry later issued this press release:

"In closing this report it may truly be said that no more baffling problem has ever been presented for investigation. In the complete absence of any reliable evidence as to either the nature or the cause of the accident of Star Tiger the Court has not been able to do more than suggest possibilities, none of which reaches the level even of probability. Into all activities which involve the co-operation of man and machine two elements enter of a very diverse character [sic] . There is an incalculable element of the human equation dependent upon imperfectly known factors; and there is the mechanical element subject to quite different laws. A breakdown may occur in either separately or in both in conjunction. Or some external cause may overwhelm both man and machine. What happened in this case will never be known and the fate of "Star Tiger" must remain an unsolved mystery."

Among the passengers was Air Marshal Sir Arthur Coningham, a hero of World War II, formerly Air Officer Commander-in-Chief, 2nd Tactical Air Force during the Battle of Normandy. Coningham's death shared the front page of the 31 January edition of the "New York Times" along with the news of the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi and the death of Orville Wright. [cite news | last = | first = | coauthors = | title = Coningham Expert in Air Warfare | work = New York Times | pages = p. 10 | language = | publisher = | date = 31 January 1948 | url = http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=FB0810FA3C59157A93C3AA178AD85F4C8485F9&scp=1&sq=coningham&st=p | accessdate = ]

Possible causes

If the "Star Tiger's" radio had failed shortly after 03:15, her captain and navigator would have been faced with the task of locating a small group of islands, measuring convert|22|mi|abbr=on from northeast to southwest covering a total area of convert|20|sqmi|abbr=on, and equipped with powerful lights that were visible from about convert|30|mi|abbr=on at the aircraft's assumed altitude. It was at that time about convert|340|mi|abbr=on from the islands with enough fuel for 3½ hours' flying time. Having received an accurate bearing, McMillan's task of making landfall was not in itself difficult, except that he was acutely aware of the fact that there was no alternative airport: the nearest point on the American mainland was Cape Hatteras, convert|580|mi|abbr=on to the west, and well beyond the "Star Tiger's" range. However, there was no evidence to suggest that radio failure or navigational error were responsible for the disaster.Orange, p. 253]

As for engine failure, the aircraft could easily have reached Bermuda on two engines. Its low altitude, however, would have made any handling problem more dangerous. The altitude chosen by the "Star Tiger" and the Lancastrian was much lower than usual and no previous BSAA flight had flown so low for so long. Wind forecasts were unreliable throughout the journey, especially at lower altitudes; consequently, a sudden strong gust could have abruptly plunged the aircraft into the sea, or inattention on the part of the crew coupled with a faulty altimeter could have allowed it to dive gently into the sea, giving the radio operator no chance to transmit a distress signal.

Twice before on similar flights the "Star Tiger" had been forced to divert to Gander, Newfoundland and just two months previously another Tudor IV had found itself landing with less than convert|100|impgal|abbr=on of fuel left; less than the amount by which the "Star Tiger" was overloaded.Orange, p. 250]

Aftermath

Don Bennett claimed that both the "Star Tiger" and "Star Ariel" had been sabotaged and that "a known war-registered saboteur" had been seen near the "Star Tiger" shortly before its last takeoff. He also claimed that Prime Minister Clement Attlee had ordered all inquiries into the incidents to be abandoned.Orange, p. 255]

Notes

References

*cite book | last = Orange | first = Vincent | authorlink = | coauthors = | title = Coningham: a biography of Air Marshal Sir Arthur Coningham | publisher = DIANE Publishing | year = 1992 | location = | pages = | url = http://books.google.com/books?id=QbRn5MwhlWcC | doi = | id = | isbn = 1428992804
*cite book | last = Ottaway | first = Susan | authorlink = | coauthors = Ottaway, Ian | title = Fly With the Stars: British South American Airways - The Rise and Controversial Fall of a Long-Haul Trailblazer | publisher = Sutton Publishing | year = 2007 | location = | pages = | url = http://books.google.com/books?id=c4-mHAAACAAJ&dq=fly+with+the+stars | doi = | id = | isbn = 9780750944489

External links

* [http://www.bermuda-triangle.org/html/the_tudors.html Press release from the official investigation]
* [http://1000aircraftphotos.com/Contributions/Coates/1422.htm A picture of "Star Ariel"]


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