In Malta’s aviation history, the year 1969 was by far from being a good year. In a span of three months 50 years ago there were two flight tragedies involving military aircraft. Their stories are two among almost 1,000 aviation incidents that are covered in the book Broken Wings, a historical research written by Colonel Mark Said.
Over a number of years Canberra aircraft were stationed in Malta, their task being to photograph strategic places in the Mediterranean
Colonel Said said that one of them was involved in an incident that happened tomorrow, 50 years ago.
He said the aircraft was returning from Cyprus and while about to land at Ħal Far it crashed in the limits of Safi. The crew of two died in the crash and these were Flt Lt Anthony Rogers Thomas and Flying Officer Robert George Newton who was the navigator.
Tarcisio Barbara was then aged 13 and he has never forgotten the scene he witnessed.
Barbara said the aircraft suddenly began to lose height and began to spin around and at the same time he heard faint crackling sounds. He said later he discovered this was glass from the cockpit top and instead of ejecting the two-man crew, it pushed them downwards. One of them finished on a horse stable, smashed the roof, killed the horse and himself died. The other crew member died on the corner and the aircraft fell and exploded, causing a blazing inferno.
Rogers Thomas and Robert George Newton are buried at the Mtarfa Military Cemetery.
At the same cemetery there are also buried Flt Lt Anthony Prowsse and Peter John Greenaway who lost their lives three months before on 7th January, 1969 when their Canberra crashed near the Addolorata Cemetery while on a training flight.
Colonel Said said it crashed in the same manner, upside down, ejecting the crew and both died. Todate there is still no explanation for the crashes although some say it was a problem with flight controls and others maintain it was pilot errors.
Detailed accounts of these tragedies and their investigations are found in the book Broken Wings that throughout its 700 pages relates the almost 1,000 incidents in Malta’s aviation history. Colonel Said his book took 30 years of research and proceeds will go to Caritas projects.