The Singapore Airshow at Changi Exhibition Centre drew 71,000 people over the weekend. Many must have came for the heart-stopping flying displays by the display teams. Unfortunately, this year's displays were a letdown as they featured mainly single aircraft. On Thursday, an aerial display was aborted in front of hundreds of trade visitors after safety was breached - The T-50 Golden Eagle's flight this afternoon was observed to have infringed the safety boundaries and the pilot was instructed to terminate his flying display as a precaution.
At $20 a ticket, the air show was not a free event of course. Now imagine you could watch one free outside your home. Some East Coast Road residents had this "privilege" in 1951, of seeing an aircraft performing aerial stunts over their house. Unfortunately the "performance" did not end with applause nor disappointment, but shock and horror as the aircraft ended in scattered debris with fatalities.
The Straits Times headline of Aug 11, 1951 reads:
A twin-engined R.A.F. Hornet, world's fastest piston-driven plane, crashed on the East Coast Road, Singapore, yesterday afternoon at an estimated speed of 200 miles per hour after performing aerobatics over the sea. The British pilot was killed instantly, and eight people, including four children, living in a row of houses opposite the crash, were injured, when the plane's petrol tanks and ammunition exploded.
It was not to be a flying display. The pilot, Sgt. George Edmund Howson (age 27), was authorized for flying practice but turned the practice into an aerobatics display. Ace-pilot wannabe perhaps? The news report tells us how the display turned into tragedy:
Mrs Ganderton always sat outside, in front of the house in the afternoon, while the children played, and Mrs Nepos and I usually joined her for a drink and chat. When they saw the plane coming in low over the houses from the sea and somersaulting, Mrs Ganderton told me that she admonished the pilot, "Don't play any of your fancy pranks on us, young man." The next moment the plane had crashed on the road right in front of the house and they were screaming with agony. In the garden, Philip's tricycle and Pamela's toy pram, overturned and scorched, bore mute testimony to the peaceful scene that was so tragically broken.
Pamela (age 3), her brother Philip (age 2) and Michael Alphonso (age 5) were to become fatal casualties of the accident.
Full report of the air crash. Thanks to Siew Min who brought my attention to the air crash.
The explosion of petrol tanks and ammunition damaged a row of houses and injured their occupants. The news report describes the havoc in detail:
A row of seven two-storeyed houses facing the spot received the full force of the explosion. All windows were smashed and the walls splattered with earth. The roof of one house caved in and tiles were broken on the others. One engine of the plane flew over the houses to fall in a lane behind.I may not have lived in the 1950s but having lived in nearby Bedok South when young, those two-storeyed houses remain fresh in my mind. They stand out as one of a kind along that stretch of Upper East Coast Road. Since they are still standing today, I went back late last year for a second shot:
For the opposite direction, the 1951 press photo shows a long concrete fence behind the wreckage. I nearly missed this one, until Peter guided me to the correct house in the photo. The house #494, with its fence, is still standing behind a bus stop.
One interesting observation: the government acquired land for road widening (driveway of #494 was much longer) but when lots were resold to developers, the new properties were built further away from the road. As a result the modern lots are much smaller than their antecedent. Next time if you travel along Upper East Coast Road, try to spot properties with frontage closer to the road. Those should be the original lots.
Edit on 20 June 2010: I added the original crash photo from the National Archives because the grandson of the owner of #494 has replied in the comments below.