AVIATION historian Peter Caygill has written many books about planes, including the story of the Darlington Spitfire in 1999 and the story of the Meteor in 2010, which was entitled Meteor from the Cockpit: Britain’s First Jet Fighter.

For that book he researched the events of March 28, 1952, which, as we told last week, were witnessed by Geoff Craggs: a Meteor disintegrated over Dinsdale and fell into fields near the Farmhouse Inn at Morton Palms on the eastern outskirts of Darlington.

Two airmen – Flying Officer Hugh Williams and Flight Lieutenant Arthur Lockyear – and young Geoff cycled out in search of souvenirs and was shocked to see an airman’s legs lying beneath a tarpaulin.

“The aircraft was a two-seat Meteor T.7 (WA665) from No.205 Advanced Flying School at Middleton St George which crashed on 24 April 1952,” says Peter. “They took off at 0655 hrs and the weather conditions were a solid overcast at 3,500ft with tops at 10,000ft. Visibility was eight miles.

“The flight only lasted just over two minutes as the Meteor was next seen emerging from cloud in a steep dive. It was heading in a southerly direction over Morton Palms and broke up shortly afterwards.

“It was seen by a ground witness who reported that there was a considerable time lag between the break-up and the impact of the forward fuselage. It was also his impression that the larger pieces of the aircraft gained height after the break-up before falling to the ground.

“The conclusion of the Court of Inquiry was that the accident was caused by sudden pilot-induced ‘g’ while travelling fast in a steep dive.”

However, that doesn’t really explain why the pilot, who had his trainer with him, got into such a steep dive – could instrument failure have left him in a terrible predicament?

The Northern Echo: Some wreckage from the Meteor which disintegrated mid-air over Morton Palms farm in 1952Some wreckage from the Meteor which disintegrated mid-air over Morton Palms farm in 1952

DENNIS RALPHS of Hutton Rudby also remembers the events of March 28, 1952, as he was a member of the groundcrew at RAF Middleton St George.

“I was tasked as a crash guard, and I was there for about three days,” he says. “We were sent with a hessian sack and a stick to pick up human remains before the foxes got them, and then we had to collect the other debris.”

Meteors, he remembers, were known as “meatboxes” because of their poor safety record.

Bill Bartle in Barnard Castle adds his own story to one of last week’s pictures which showed parachutists jumping at Greatham airfield in Hartlepool.

“I have a friend from Hartlepool who was in the Territorial Army and volunteered to train as a paratrooper,” says Bill. “Standing ready to jump for the first time he was told: “Jump on the count of three.”  “The instructor yelled: “One. Two.” He then delivered a large boot to my friend’s back side! No hesitation there.”

AS we said last week, in the 1950s and 1960s, military aircraft had a worrying habit of falling out of the sky – our 1965 rail crash story today proves that.

Tony Crooks was walking to school with his brother, from Startforth to Barnard Castle, on November 11, 1951.

“We heard a jet aircraft flying over the town and saw two white parachutes drifting to the east,” he says. “The aircraft circled to the west and disappeared.”

It was another Meteor T.7, WA720, and neither airman was badly hurt.

“We heard at school that it had crashed at Cross Lanes near the A66, so we set off after school to go and find it,” he continues. “We walked miles up the road towards Cross Lanes and found it in a crater in a field, which is now under the new A66 junction.

“We collected a small bit of wreckage each and set off home, by which time it was nearly dark. We must have been mad – I know mam was going hairless when we arrived!”

DAVID GRAY calls from Willington about the coat-of-arms of RAF Middleton St George which was approved by the Queen in January 1959. We suggested it showed a goose in a nod to the area being known as Goosepool before the airman arrived. David points out that it is a Canada goose, which is a very big nod to the thousands of Canadian airmen stationed there during the Second World War.

JG Hartburn adds: “The Canadians objected to the name Goosepool because they had a RCAF station back home called Goosander, which sounded too similar, and so to avoid confusion, Goosepool became Middleton St George.

“The badge, therefore, commemorates the local farm and the RCAF.”