Fascinating story of tragic Ely plane crash - and how hero pilot saved cathedral from being destroyed

PUBLISHED: 16:23 09 August 2019 | UPDATED: 10:34 12 August 2019

It is 68 years to the day since a plane crashed in Ely where in an “act of heroism” the pilot diverted it to avoid destroying Ely Cathedral. Pictures show the aftermath in Ely and the Ely Standard covergae. Picture: RAY WELLS/ ELY MUSEUM

It is 68 years to the day since a plane crashed in Ely where in an "act of heroism" the pilot diverted it to avoid destroying Ely Cathedral. Pictures show the aftermath in Ely and the Ely Standard covergae. Picture: RAY WELLS/ ELY MUSEUM

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It is 68 years to the day since a plane crashed in Ely where in an "act of heroism" the pilot diverted it to avoid destroying Ely Cathedral.

In August 1951 St Mary’s Street in Ely witnessed a catastrophic aircraft crash, causing loss of life and damage to many buildings. Pictures: RAY WELLS/ ELY MUSEUMIn August 1951 St Mary’s Street in Ely witnessed a catastrophic aircraft crash, causing loss of life and damage to many buildings. Pictures: RAY WELLS/ ELY MUSEUM

At around 9am on August 9 1951 a Harvard T.2 training aircraft hit a shop, blacksmith's and damaged various buildings on the south side of St Mary's Street.

It is believed that the airman flying the failing aircraft, in an act of heroism, tried to avoid Ely Cathedral and nearby St Mary's Church which he was careering towards.

Ely Museum posted the fascinating story on their social media to mark the anniversary this morning.

"The 9th August 1951 is one etched in the memories of many Ely residents," their post read.

In August 1951 St Mary’s Street in Ely witnessed a catastrophic aircraft crash, causing loss of life and damage to many buildings. Pictures: RAY WELLS/ ELY MUSEUMIn August 1951 St Mary’s Street in Ely witnessed a catastrophic aircraft crash, causing loss of life and damage to many buildings. Pictures: RAY WELLS/ ELY MUSEUM

"After it crashed the aircraft hit a passing lorry, together they smashed into the garage and badly damaged the electricity showroom.

"The electricity showroom and garage can be seen in this picture from 1948, the showroom is now Chic Face and Body Clinic and the garage is now flats.

"The plane was on a practice mission from RAF Feltwell in Thetford, Norfolk."

A reporter from the Ely Standard Newspaper who was cycling to work at the time of the crash, reported in the paper that he saw the plane at a "90 degree angle sweeping towards the ground".

In August 1951 St Mary’s Street in Ely witnessed a catastrophic aircraft crash, causing loss of life and damage to many buildings. Pictures: RAY WELLS/ ELY MUSEUMIn August 1951 St Mary’s Street in Ely witnessed a catastrophic aircraft crash, causing loss of life and damage to many buildings. Pictures: RAY WELLS/ ELY MUSEUM

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The article read that a 'screech of tortured metal' was heard and that St Mary's Street "dissolved into a cloud of dust and petrol fumes".

The fuselage of the plane could be seen lying in the middle of the showroom of the garage.

A car had also been overturned by the force of a wing of the plane striking it and the lorry, which had taken the brunt of the force from the fuselage.

In August 1951 St Mary’s Street in Ely witnessed a catastrophic aircraft crash, causing loss of life and damage to many buildings. Pictures: RAY WELLS/ ELY MUSEUMIn August 1951 St Mary’s Street in Ely witnessed a catastrophic aircraft crash, causing loss of life and damage to many buildings. Pictures: RAY WELLS/ ELY MUSEUM

The cab of the lorry was completely torn away and it was found along with its driver, Mr W. Moffett, towards the back of the garage.

The museum post continued: "Two people lost their lives in this accident, with many more people injured, suffering from smoke inhalation and shock.

"Though many more gave thanks for their lucky escape, including those living in the flats above the garage, which the plane hit, all of whom miraculously escaped uninjured.

"Mr W Moffett, the lorry driver suffered such severe injuries he was unrecognisable and had to be identified by just his clothing and RAF Sgt. Lewis Ernest Banks was also killed in the accident.

"The other airman on board the aircraft, though severely injured, did survive."

An employee at the Electricity Board Showroom described the event as "being over in a flash, it sounded like a bomb, just like the war again".

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