On the morning of 26th April 1944 pupil pilots Sgt Cyril Jewell and F/O Vito Porich were briefed to carry out a low flying cross country exercise. The route was Eslington Hall near Whittingham, Hallington Reservoir, Dally Castle near Bellingham and back to base, the pilots were briefed to fly no lower than 200ft.
F/O Porich left base at 10:05 hrs and orbited the airfield whilst he set his compass. Sgt Jewell left at 10:10 hrs and made straight for the first waypoint flying at 1000ft as briefed, a consequence being that Sgt Jewell was only two miles ahead of F/O Porich as the exercise commenced.
Good visibility and clear air provided ideal conditions and the first waypoint at Eslington Hall was reached relatively quickly, from here Jewell reduced his altitude and made a turn south to Hallington Reservoir. Sgt Jewell was observed by F/O Porich to circle twice over Hallington before setting a course for Dally Castle, a small ruin located in a valley about 3 miles west of Bellingham. By now Porich was only 500 yards behind Jewell who’s Radio Transmitter (R/T) appeared to be unserviceable as Porich had heard Eshott call him twice during the first legs and no response was received, Porich had also tried without reply.
Both pilots had been briefed to watch out for a wood as they approached Dally Castle, so when a wood appeared along their route, Porich called out on the R/T ‘Target is dead ahead’ as he could see what appeared to be ruins on top of the hill. The flight was about 1 mile to starboard of the wood and over a bend in the river North Tyne which is believed to have been the bend at High Countess Park. On the ground two children, who were fishing in the Houxty Burn, heard the sound of an aircraft flying very low and fast overhead, shortly after they heard a loud clatter and looking up saw smoke coming from Houxty Wood, then a second aircraft passed by almost immediately, circled a number of times and headed off.
The aircraft the children had witnessed was Spitfire P8193 flown by 20 year old Sgt Jewell. F/O Porich saw the crash from his cockpit and recalls that shortly after calling out on his R/T about the wood being ahead, Sgt Jewell began a gentle turn to port, when the turn had reached approximately 90 degrees, the nose of the aircraft dropped and the wings levelled. When over the road in front of the wood, Jewell appeared to try and pull up but failed to clear the treetops and the aircraft broke up and exploded. The aircraft were flying at 210 mph at the time and Sgt Jewell was killed on impact.
The crash had occurred at 10:39 hours at Houxty Wood, 4 miles south of Bellingham. First on the scene was PC Hannan who arrived at 10:50 hours and by 12:00 hours the site had been visited by W/C R.W. Jackson, the chief technical officer of RAF Eshott with the aircraft and pilot being formerly identified.
The crash was attributed to Sgt Jewell becoming distracted whilst carrying out the turn, paying too much attention to flying the aircraft than what was going on outside the cockpit. Porich had mistakenly identified Houxty Wood as the wood at Dally Castle, which was still another 6 miles away to the north west. One has to wonder if Sgt Jewell could hear the instructions on his R/T but was unable to respond to them as he appeared to carry out the instructions passed to him by F/O Porich. Could F/O Porich’s mistake have caused some doubt in the mind of Sgt Jewell resulting in him checking his map at the crucial point he began his turn?
F/O Vito Porich (437158) would go on to survive the war after serving briefly with 165 Squadron. He was born in Split, Yugoslavia on 17th August 1922 but was brought up in Australia and he enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force on 7th November 1942.
Cyril’s Spitfire, serial number P8193, was a presentation aircraft named ‘La Rosalinda’ and one of four aircraft presented with a donation of £20,000 by Lady Rosalind Davidson of Huntly Lodge, Huntly, Aberdeenshire.