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Comet Aircraft (Loss)

Volume 526: debated on Monday 12 April 1954

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asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation if he will make a further statement on the loss of the Comet on the night of 8th April.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation
(Mr. John Profumo)

Since my right hon. Friend's statement last Friday search operations have established that the disaster occurred about 70 miles south of Naples. The bodies of five victims, a small amount of wreckage, some mail and various personal effects have been recovered. The depth of sea in the area is 520 fathoms so that there is, I regret, no possibility of salvage operations.

As the House will know, my right hon. Friend has withdrawn the United Kingdom Certificates of Airworthiness of Comet aircraft pending further detailed investigation into the causes of the recent disasters. Before taking this step he received the advice of the Air Registration Board and the Air Safety Board and discussed the matter with the Chairman of B.O.A.C.

It is clearly of vital importance that everything possible should be done to get to the bottom of these mysterious tragedies. A public inquiry will be held into this accident as well as the Elba accident. In addition, exhaustive investigations and tests will be carried out as a major national research project by the Ministry of Supply. The full resources of that Department have been made available for this purpose.

While thanking the Minister for that full reply, may I ask him whether he does not think that in view of the tremendous developments which have been made in jet aircraft these tragic happenings cannot be taken as altogether unexpected; and that the whole country will share the decision of the operators, the manufacturers and the Government to proceed with the intensification of these tests with a view to getting the Comet into operation once more? There must be no question whatsoever of abandoning the Comet.

Yes, Sir. I think it would be well not to miss this opportunity of taking our hats off to these V.I.P.s on whose courage and genius the future of this great British project now relies.

When considering the membership of the inquiry will my hon. Friend go into the question of whether it would not be desirable to call in Sir Frank Whittle as one of its members, in view of his great ability as a diagnostician of turbo-jet engine failures?

The public inquiry is one matter and the investigation which will be carried out by the Ministry of Supply is another matter. I think that what my hon. Friend has said will certainly be noted by the Minister of Supply.

In view of this strange series of accidents connected with Rome Airport, will the inquiry or investigations include some special attention to the security arrangements at Rome Airport?

That seems to be a matter for the inquiry when it is set up. I think the House would not expect me to prejudge the decisions to be taken on that occasion.

As one who has flown on both the Singapore and Cape Town routes, may I ask the Minister whether he is aware that the security arrangements on several points on both routes appear to be such that any competent sabotage organisation would be able to get through them?

The possibility of sabotage, of course, cannot be excluded, and this and all other possible causes will certainly be most fully investigated.

In view of the importance of salvaging, can my hon. Friend say whether Her Majesty's Government have sent their congratulations and thanks to their Lordships of the Royal Navy for the astonishingly good work done in the salvaging of the other Comet that crashed?

Yes, Sir, my right hon. Friend sent a personal message through the Admiralty to the Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean Fleet, on the lines suggested by my hon. Friend, and I understand that the Commander-in-Chief very much regrets that he is not able to help with salvaging on this occasion.