Prince William Of Gloucester Dies In Air Crash
Prince William Plane Crash

The nation was shocked in August 1972 when Prince William of Gloucester was killed, aged just 30, in a plane crash at Halfpenny Green near Wolverhampton.

The Prince, who was a grandson of George V and a cousin of the Queen, was flying with co-pilot Vyrell Mitchell when disaster struck soon after take-off.

Express and Star photographer Ray Bradbury, who took most of the pictures shown here, described the crash in the newspaper.

He said: "I saw Prince William's Piper, number 66, and another Piper, number 69, take off. Number 69 appeared to get airborne before the prince. Then it seemed he was in some sort of trouble."

"He banked to port. It looked as though the prince might have been troubled by the other aircraft which was making a turn but at a higher altitude. His port wing seemed to hit the trees and he disappeared from view. Then there was an explosion"

Before The Flight
William, grandson of King George V, seen with his co-pilot Vyrell Mitchell

The questions asked by air accident investigation experts as they arrived at the scene were

It took more than a year to investigate these questions, and when the report was published in September 1973 it surprised people by disagreeing with the inquest.

A Board of Trade senior accident inspector had told the inquest that analysis suggested nothing more then an "Error of judgment by the pilot"

The report, though did not emphasise pilot error as the main cause. This surprised Simon Ames, the chief executive of British Light Aviation Centre, but the consensus among the people of Halfpenny Green was that the plane was in trouble through no fault of the Prince, and that he flew it so as to avoid crashing on the village.

A photographer identified only as R Ford of Deans Road, Wolverhampton, took the picture of the wreckage.

Brian Bishop
Brian Bishop, Who tried to help.

Among those trying to help was Brian Bishop, 31, of Kidderminster.

He said "The plane went through the middle branches of a tree, knocked a wing off and somersaulted. It crashed into a bank and burst into flames."

"We rushed over. The tailplane was the only part not burning. We tried to roll it down a ditch to break it in half, but the heat was too intense. It was impossible to do anything.

Eye witness Jennie Bishop, who was proprietress of a company in Halfpenny Green said "He could have caused many deaths if he hadn't taken action. There were many people right down on the road."

Other eye witnesses, Jean Baron and Catherine Gibson, came to the same conclusion. Miss Gibson who lived 15 yards from where the plane crashed, said "I am sure he was trying to avoid the road"

We can never know, but it seems quite possible that what was originally taken to be a tragic blunder was in fact a successful attempt to avoid crashing on the spectators.

Prince William and Vyrell Mitchell would both have known their own deaths were probably unavoidable, whatever they did.