Witness reports said that, as the Vulcan came in to land, two small explosions were heard and puffs of smoke billowed from the fuselage. Then its long nose dipped and it crashed in flames and wreckage.
A tremendous explosion shook the airport.
Police Warn Onlookers
Other accounts said that the bomber, known as “the flying triangle”, bounced as its wheels touched the runway, reared up and then crashed.
At the time visibility was down to 500 metres. A party of Russians awaiting the arrival of the Bolshoi Ballet Company were horror-stricken as fire engines and ambulances raced out to the blazing aircraft.
The wreckage blazed with a magnesium-like glare for 15 minutes. Police cordoned off the scene and warned onlookers: “Things are still tricky; the fuel tanks may explode.”
As that warning was given, flames reached the tanks and they blew up with a dull boom that sent a giant piece of twisted metal into the air.
Other bits of smouldering wreckage formed a 100-metre trail that resembled a wartime flarepath.
The Vulcan was returning from a triumphant 26,000-mile (41,840-kilometre) world flight. It set up a string of records for point-to-point hops.
On its last lap from Aden it flew 4000 miles to London in seven hours 18 minutes, at an average speed of about 500 miles an hour (800 km/h) .
The Vulcan came in to land at the airport despite low clouds and driving rain which reduced visibility and was getting worse every minute.
The bad weather conditions had already forced diversion of three Russian Tu-104 jets bringing the Bolshoi Ballet to London.
The Russians landed at a US Air Force base at Mansion, 70 miles away.
A spokesman for the makers, who was watching the landing, said that, at between 400 and 500 feet, the canopy came off and the plane banked to starboard. The nose started to go down and, shortly afterwards, there were two loud reports presumed to be successful ejections.
“The plane continued to nose down, getting steeper and steeper until it hit the ground and burst into flames,” the spokesman said.
‘Perfectly normal approach’
A spokesman for the Hawker-Siddeley group and A. V. Roe said later: “It has now been confirmed that Squadron Leader Howard was making a perfectly normal approach with the aircraft and all four engines were operating as usual.
“There are no indications whatsoever that anything was wrong with the bomber.
“Coming in to land in driving rain with a low ceiling and poor visibility, the pilot was under ground control, which means that he was being ‘talked down’ – again a very normal procedure in bad weather.
“It then seems that he hit something, possibly an obstruction, on his approach run in before he actually saw the runway.
“He immediately turned his engines on to full power in an attempt to climb away but, at this point, although he gained some height and went back into cloud, he recognised that the aircraft was out of control and, within seconds, gave the order to abandon ship.
“Eye-witnesses have confirmed that when the Vulcan was first seen -which was after it had climbed away following the initial impact, and was out of control and falling – the nose and the starboard wing were in a down attitude which continued until the final crash.
“The tragedy has all the appearances of a landing accident in very bad weather.”
Canberra: The Minister for Air, Mr A. G. Townley, said tonight he was “shocked and bewildered” by the news of the crash.
For Australians, the tragedy had a deep significance because the Vulcan had been here so recently.
The deep and sincere sympathy of all Australians would go out to the relatives of those who lost their lives in the disaster and also to the British government and the RAF, Mr Townley said.