1933 Imperial Airways Diksmuide crash

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City of Liverpool
File:Armstrong Whitworth A W 154 Argosy Mk I (1926).jpg
A similar Argosy of Imperial Airways in 1926
Accident summary
Date 28 March 1933
Summary Fire, suspected sabotage
Site Near Diksmuide, Belgium
Passengers 12
Crew 3
Fatalities 15 (all)
Survivors 0
Aircraft type Armstrong Whitworth Argosy II
Aircraft name City of Liverpool
Operator Imperial Airways
Registration G-AACI
Flight origin Brussels Airport
Destination Croydon Airport

The 1933 Imperial Airways Diksmuide crash was the fatal accident involving the Armstrong Whitworth Argosy II aeroplane City of Liverpool, flown by British airline Imperial Airways. The aircraft crashed near Diksmuide (Dixmude), northern Belgium on 28 March 1933 after an onboard fire;[1] all fifteen aboard were killed, making it the deadliest accident in the history of British civil aviation to that time. It has been suggested that this was the first airliner ever lost to sabotage,[2] and in the immediate aftermath suspicion centred on one passenger, Dr. Albert Voss, who seemingly jumped from the aircraft before it crashed.


The aircraft was employed on Imperial's regular London-Brussels-Cologne route, which it had flown for the previous five years.[3] On this leg of the journey the plane was travelling from Brussels to London, which route would take it north from Brussels heading over Flanders before crossing the coast for the 50-mile (80 km) flight across the English Channel and then making the brief traverse over the Kent countryside to land at Croydon Airport in Surrey, a journey that was estimated to take two hours from the aircraft's slightly delayed take-off just after 12:30 pm.[4]

While flying over the fields of northern Belgium, the aircraft was seen by onlookers on the ground to catch fire before losing altitude and plunging into the ground.[5][6] As the aircraft began its descent, a passenger was seen to exit the aeroplane and fall to earth without a parachute. He was later identified as Dr Albert Voss, a German who had emigrated to the United Kingdom where he practised as a dentist in Manchester.[6][7] Just before crashing, at approximately 200 feet (60 m), the aircraft split into two sections which hit the ground separately, instantly killing all those still on board.[8][9]

Investigation and inquest

The subsequent investigation found that the fire had started towards the rear of the plane, in either the lavatory or the luggage area at the back of the cabin. No items recovered from the front portion of the wreckage showed any evidence of fire damage before the impact, nor was there any evidence of fire in the engines or fuel systems. The investigators narrowed the cause down to the firing of some combustible substance, either accidentally by a passenger or crew member or through vibration or some other natural occurrence, or deliberately by bombing.[10]

At the inquest into Voss's death at least one witness, his estranged brother, accused him of being culpable,[5] claiming that Voss's business trips to the continent to buy anaesthetics masked a lucrative sideline in drug smuggling.[5] This rumour had followed Voss for some time before his death and was alleged to have been the subject of investigations by the Metropolitan Police.[3] Voss, according to his brother, was travelling aboard the aircraft together with his niece,[11] and they were aware that the authorities were on to them. Voss sought to escape from the authorities by destroying the aircraft using various flammable substances to which his work gave him easy access and then bailing out in the confused circumstances, hoping that in the aftermath no one would notice one less body than there should be.[5][12] An autopsy showed that, other than some minor burns, Voss was unharmed before he exited the aircraft.[13][14] The inquest jury eventually returned an open verdict – indicating that they believed his death may not have been accidental, but that they were unable, on the evidence before them, to come to a definite conclusion – rather than the verdict of accidental death the coroner attempted to direct them towards.[15]

This actual aircraft features in the Michael Powell film Red Ensign, about 10 minutes into the movie.[citation needed]


  1. "British Air Disaster Fiteen Dead, Crash in Flames in Belgium". The Times (46405). 29 March 1933. Obituaries, p. 14 col. D.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Denham, Terry. World Directory of Airliner Crashes. Yeoford: Patrick Stephens Ltd. p. 21. ISBN 1-85260-554-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 Barker (1988) p. 56
  4. Barker (1988) p. 57
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 "Foreign News: Dr. Voss". Time. Time Inc. 17 April 1933. Retrieved 24 April 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. 6.0 6.1 Barker (1988) p. 58
  7. Barker (1988) p. 55
  8. "ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 949". Aviation Safety Network. Flight Safety Foundation. Retrieved 22 December 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Barker (1988) pp. 59–60
  10. Barker (1988) pp. 60–61
  11. "Mr. Albert Voss – Postponement of Funeral – Coroner's statement". The Sydney Morning Herald. 5 April 1933. p.13, col.2. Retrieved 9 January 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Barker (1988) pp. 61–62
  13. Barker (1988) p. 59
  14. Barker (1988) p. 63
  15. Barker (1988) pp. 63–64
  • Barker, Ralph (1988) [First edition published 1966]. "The World of Albert Voss". Great Mysteries of the Air (Revised ed.). London, United Kingdom: Javelin. ISBN 0-7137-2063-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>