LAST month, the world was in raptures, and rightly so, over the skill of the cucumber cool Chesley Sullenberger III – the airline pilot who safely landed a US Airways Airbus A320 on the waters of the Hudson River in New York, thereby saving the lives of all 155 on board.

However, what the world didn’t know or had probably forgotten, was that half a century before, Worcester had its own aircraft drama. Except this involved a single-seater Tiger Moth, a muddy field near Dines Green housing estate and a 17-yearold sixth-former from the city’s Royal Grammar School, who was flying by the seat of his trousers.

Andrew Fraser Skea was on a training flight from Wolverhampton when his silver-grey bi-plane stalled as he attempted to fly over his local haunts in St John’s, Worcester. With less than 30 hours’ flying time under his belt, it was not what he needed.

But as the Tiger Moth plummeted earthwards, Fraser managed to avoid multiple hazards, which as well as the Dines Green roof tops also included power cables, telephone lines and trees, and crash landed on marshy ground near Laugherne Brook. He suffered concussion, cuts and bruises to his face and arms and was rushed to Worcester Royal Infirmary.

It was prime time for public attention, being noon on a Saturday, and a small crowd soon gathered near the wreck. Granted, not as many as lined the banks of the Hudson, but big for Worcester nonetheless. The incident made the front page of the Evening News and Times, so there was no hiding place.

Everyone knew. If they didn’t, they certainly did when he returned to school a fortnight later on crutches.

I was actually at WRGS with Andrew Fraser Skea, who was a few years older than me. He was in the same house too, Temple, which has been consistently average over the years, although it does seem to have produced more than its quota of flyers and chess players.

I recall the bouffant-haired Fraser as a more than useful rugby threequarter, who on Fridays would appear in the blue uniform of the air force section of the school’s Combined Cadet Force, an activity I avoided like the plague. It was obvious then he had aspirations to be in the RAF, but I doubt he ever imagined he would make the papers for his flying exploits long before he joined up.

Today, Fraser, who now lives in Oxfordshire, can look back on an RAF career that spanned 17 years, but which he thought was over before it began. After all, being fined £25 for “flying in a manner likely to endanger the lives of the general public” was not a good way to start.

“My interest in flying came from an uncle, who was a Battle of Britain fighter pilot,” he explained. “I heroworshipped him as a small boy and I was always reading about, drawing or watching planes. I joined the RAF section of the grammar school’s CCF and through that applied for an RAF Flying Scholarship to pay for training for a private pilot’s licence.

It was a short course of about four weeks that took place during the school summer holidays in 1958 and was based at Halfpenny Green airfield, south of Wolverhampton.

“All went well until my penultimate cross-country navigation exercise, one flight away from obtaining my licence. On Saturday, August 23, I was sent on a triangular flight from the airfield to Bridgnorth, on to Worcester and back, but the choice of Worcester as a turning point turned out to be a slight error of judgement by my instructor.

“When I arrived over the city, I decided to have a closer look at some of my haunts. One of these was a playing field in St John’s. I turned tightly to have a better look, but forgot to add power in the turn and lost airspeed, stalled and spun. This wouldn’t have been a complete disaster but for the fact that I was pretty low, and before I could recover, I hit the ground. It was all my own fault. An error made through inexperience.

“However, I was amazingly lucky. I landed beside Laugherne Brook in soft ground in a small wood. I missed all the trees as well as 33,000 volt high-tension cables, which I ended up underneath. The petrol tank in the wing above my head burst, covering me with petrol, but there was no fire. I was knocked out for a while, broke my nose, cut my face a bit and my feet were caught up around the engine, which had been pushed back into the cockpit.

After they got me out, I spent three days in hospital. My parents were on holiday at the time and had to come home. They were not impressed.”

Following his prosecution for dangerous flying, Fraser understandably lost his flying scholarship. “I thought my RAF career was over before it had started,” he added. So he sidelined his ambitions and went to Edinburgh University, where he had a good time, but gained only what he described as “an indifferent degree”

in some indifferent subjects.

“However, I still hankered after a flying career and so I applied to the RAF again,” he said. “Rather surprisingly, I was accepted.”

There followed nearly 17 years flying helicopters in the Royal Air Force, which included a small war in Borneo, where his aircraft took two hits, but not seriously, and his tail rotor failed while hovering on top of a mountain. The resulting wreckage can still be seen. There were three years on search and rescue in Cyprus and, the best of all, two-anda- half years as an exchange instructor with the US Airforce in Utah and New Mexico.

After leaving the RAF as a squadron leader in 1979, Fraser spent more than three years flying helicopters to the North Sea oil rigs and then a marvellous 16 years in the Sultanate of Oman. flying for possibly the best-equipped police force in the world.

Today, he still maintains a connection with the RAF, working as a helicopter simulator instructor at RAF Benson in Oxfordshire.

Sqdn Ldr Skea reckons to have clocked up more than 8,300 flying hours in his career, which is quite some going considering what happened on a summer’s day back in 1958.