Turkey, Europe

English historian recalls Menderes aircraft accident

Anadolu Agency visits woods where Turkish premier's plane crashed 60 years ago

Ahmet Gürhan Kartal   | 16.02.2019
English historian recalls Menderes aircraft accident

London, City of

By Ahmet Gurhan Kartal


Adnan Menderes, the ninth prime minister of Turkey and founder of the Democrat Party, was the country’s first popularly elected leader and served between 1950 and 1960.

Menderes was arrested by a military junta after a coup that targeted Turkish democracy in May 1960 and executed in 1961.

Adnan Menderes, the ninth prime minister of Turkey and founder of the Democrat Party

What is probably less known is that he survived a plane crash on Feb. 17, 1959 near a small English village called Newdigate in Surrey while on his way to London for a conference on Cyprus.

Anadolu Agency visited Jordan’s Wood -- the crash site, about 4.5 kilometers (2.8 miles) from Gatwick Airport -- on the 60th anniversary of the fatal air accident.

John Callcut, chairman of the Newdigate Local History Society, was only 11 years old when the Turkish Airlines plane crashed into the woods. But as a local historian, he knows the details of the accident and what happened afterwards.

Travelling to the accident site with Anadolu Agency, Callcut said it was an incident that received a great amount of attention not only from Turkish reporters but also from international media.    

“Mr. Menderes was coming to England to discuss the Cyprus problem with Harold Harold Macmillan, the [then British] PM…and he was going to meet the Greek premier. So it was a very, very high-profile meeting he was coming for. After the crash, of course, it made headlines,” he said.

Callcut said the incident was covered by newsreel and documentary producer British Pathe news, as it was a big deal at the time.

Visiting the actual crash site in Jordan’s Wood with the Anadolu Agency team, Callcut spoke about the accident.

“In 1959, the Turkish airliner flew over here in fog and crashed into these woods. On board [was] Mr. Prime Minister [Adnan] Menderes.”

The local historian said Menderes survived the crash into the thick woods and local farmers assisted him shortly after he managed to walk away from the burning wreckage.

“Tony and Margaret Bailey heard a noise. It was not a normal aircraft noise, it was a different aircraft noise.

“They realized something was wrong and Tony Bailey left his home...the Ivyhouse Farm, jumped in his car, drove down the road and found three people coming out of the fog. One was Mr. Menderes.”

Callcut said Tony Bailey drove Menderes and two other survivors back to his farmhouse.

The crash caused great anxiety in Turkey when the bad news traveled in a short time, but Callcut said the Turkish premier recovered quickly at Redhill Hospital and visited the Baileys at their farm.

The accident claimed the lives of 14 people on board, including then-Director General of Anadolu Agency Serif Arzik, then-Press and Tourism Minister Ali Server Somuncuoglu and then-principal clerk of the prime ministry Muzaffer Ersu.

Callcut said the accident was one of the most significant events that ever happened in the area, while showing related pages in a local history book he compiled with the Newdigate Society.  

Accident report

“Lifted fog or low stratus covered the higher ground, restricting visibility in places to 100-200 yards [92-183 meters],” said a report released by British aviation authorities, describing the weather situation at the time of the crash.

“Inspection at the scene of the accident showed that the aircraft had flown into the tops of trees,” the report said.

“The aircraft began to disintegrate as it descended through the trees…until the wheels made contact with the ground. After rising again slightly, the main part of the wreckage came to rest about 100 yards further on and then caught fire. A few minutes later, an explosion occurred.”

It also said “the evidence is insufficient to establish the cause of the accident”.  

End of an era

One year after his government was toppled by a military junta, Menderes was hanged on Sept. 17, 1961 on the small Marmara Sea island of Imrali.

Menderes was one of the three senior Democrat Party officials hanged on that day. The other two were Fatin Rustu Zorlu and Hasan Polatkan, the foreign and finance ministers of the Menderes government.

Accused of violating the Turkish Constitution and embezzling funds from the state, all three were tried by a military court on the island of Yassiada to the southeast of Istanbul along with all senior officials of Menderes’ party.

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