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Caister helicopter crash crew from RAF Coltishall are remembered with lifeboat station service

PUBLISHED: 19:50 22 June 2017 | UPDATED: 19:54 22 June 2017

Lifeboat chairman Paul Garrod, Yarmouth mayor Kerry Robinson-Payne, Bob Collis, Sarah Nichols, Melissa Ash and Lowestoft Aviation Society member Simon Baker.
Picture: Anthony Carroll

Lifeboat chairman Paul Garrod, Yarmouth mayor Kerry Robinson-Payne, Bob Collis, Sarah Nichols, Melissa Ash and Lowestoft Aviation Society member Simon Baker. Picture: Anthony Carroll

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The crew of an RAF helicopter that were killed when it crashed off the Norfolk coast 50 years ago have been remembered at a special service.

RAF SAR (Search And Rescue) Whirlwind helicopter XJ414. 
Supplied by Bob Collis RAF SAR (Search And Rescue) Whirlwind helicopter XJ414. Supplied by Bob Collis

On Thursday, June 22 1967 search and rescue Whirlwind helicopter XJ414, based at RAF Coltishall, was heading back from an exercise at Pakefield when a rotor blade became detached, leading to the craft plunging into the sea 160 yards off Caister beach.

The three crewmen killed were pilot Flt Lt Archie Gavan, 47, who was the commanding officer of the search and rescue D flight at RAF Coltishall and who had been a Battle of Britain Spitfire pilot; Flt Lt Gil Pink and master navigator Harry Crossman.

On Thursday night the crew, who were all married and had children, were remembered on the 50th anniversary of the crash with an act of remembrance and commemoration at Caister Lifeboat Station.

On that fateful day 50 years ago the lifeboat crew were launched to try and save the crew.

Rev John Kinchin-Smith conducts the service at Caister Lifeboat Station.
Picture; Anthony Carroll Rev John Kinchin-Smith conducts the service at Caister Lifeboat Station. Picture; Anthony Carroll

At the service of remembrance were Mr Crossman’s granddaughters who had both travelled from Aylsham, Sarah Nichols, 44 and Melissa Ash, 40, who said it was a “great honour” for the family to be invited to the ceremony.

The mayor of Great Yarmouth, Kerry Robinson-Payne, and local coastwatch members attended as did the crew and volunteers at the lifeboat station, some of who witnessed the crash.

The service was conducted by Rev John Kinchin-Smith, who said: “The crew, while serving their country, paid the final sacrifice.

“We remember too the crew of Caister volunteer lifeboat who very quickly attempted rescue, but on that occasion in vain.”

Bob Collis describes the crash that happened on June 22, 1967 off Caister.
Picture: Anthony Carroll Bob Collis describes the crash that happened on June 22, 1967 off Caister. Picture: Anthony Carroll

The service of remembrance was organised by the Lowestoft Aviation Society.

Bob Collis, from the society and an aviation historian, described how before the crash the crew waved to people on the beach and their faces were clearly visible.

Due to metal fatigue a rotor blade detached leading to, as Mr Collis said, the helicopter “dropping like a stone into the sea”.

Mr Collis said XJ414 had been taking part in an exercise at Pakefield Rifle Range, near Lowestoft, with soldiers from a Territorial Army unit before heading back for Norfolk.

Royal Navy frogmen were called in to help recover the bodies.

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