Balloon Disaster

The aftermath

from The Bedford Record 3rd August 1926


At 3.30 this afternoon (27 July 1926) when the amusements and attractions of Kempston Flower Show and Fete were at their height a terrible disaster occurred. The organisers of the Show had engaged one of Spenser and Son’s captive balloons to make trips carrying four passengers on each trip in the basket.

Several trips had been made, and just before the accident the balloon was up in the air at about 600 feet. The usual practice of winding in was followed at the ed of this trip by a small motor winch standing on the ground and winding in the balloon by means of a hawser. The wind, however, had freshened from the north-east as the balloon was nearing the earth. It was noticed that the effect of the pull on the hawser in conjunction with the effect of the wind on the envelope of the balloon was causing the basket to tilt dangerously. The pilot was not in the passenger basket but was sat on a seat just above them. The basket contained four adult passengers. In consequence of the basket tilting, it is believed when the balloon was about 50 feet from the ground the pilot allowed some of the gas to escape in order to effect a safer landing, but the result was that the netting supporting the basket came of the partially deflated envelope, in the words of an eye-witness, like ‘skin off a banana.’

The basket fell rapidly to earth, pitching out the four passengers and pilot. The distance was about 40ft.
The accident took place in the full view of an enormous crowd, and the authorities promptly decided to close the proceedings.
The Luton red Cross band played The National Anthem, and except for those who helped remove the injured people to hospital, everyone departed for home.

The Killed
Four people where killed, the names being as follows: the pilot, Mr A.T.Willin, address unknown at present; Mrs Ernest Crowsley, 270 Bedford Road; Mr W. Francis Harbage, 1 Church Walk and his wife; Mr Ernest Crowslwy lies in hospital dangerously injured.

The balloon bore in large letters the name ‘Mirarnia’ and underneath it the words ‘Royal Aero Club of Great Britain.’ The balloon was perfectly round in shape and not the usual pear shape. A parachute descent by a lady had been arranged for the evening.

In a follow up article in 1977 two eyewitnesses of the disaster provided some additional details about events that day, including the cost of a ride as being two shillings per person, and a recollection that the balloon owners were subsequently fined £100 for not having a certificate of air worthiness. . altogether a cautionary tale for fete organisers.