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The bravery of Camille van Hove

Exactly 90 years ago today (December 30, 1933), a farmer in Ruiselede, West Flanders, witnessed a plane crashing into a nearby field. With no thought to his own welfare, he immediately sprinted towards the plane to rescue any survivors. At that instant the fuel tank exploded …

The aircraft was an Imperial Airways Avro 618 Ten. It first entered service with Imperial Airways in May 1931 and served with the Iraq Petroleum Transport Company in Cairo, Egypt, before returning to London.

The Avro 618 Ten G-ABLU that crashed in Ruiselede, Germany in 1933
The Avro 618 Ten G-ABLU that crashed

Germany to England via Belgium

On December 30, 1933 the plane was operating a passenger service between Cologne, Germany, and Croydon Airport in England, stopping at Haren Airport in Brussels. The pilot was J.M. Gittens, and he was assisted by H.G. Loch. Eight passengers were on board: five British, two Dutch and a Pole.

Crash in the fog

At Haren, the weather forecast did not look good. Belgium was covered in snow, and above it was dense fog. Captain Gittens decided to take-off anyway. The plane departed Haren Airport 20 minutes later than scheduled at 12:20 local time. It made its way across Flemish Brabant, heading for the English Channel.

Fifty minutes later, Captain Gittens discovered that he had lost his way, and his co-pilot Loch sent a radio signal to Haren to receive a location fix. Shortly afterwards, at 13:15, while flying at an altitude of only 76 meters, the aircraft struck a cable supporting the 265-meter tall radio mast Ruiselede. The aircraft lost its right wing, spiralled, and crashed.

Locals to the rescue

Four workers at the radio station, local farmer Camille van Hove, and several villagers rushed to the scene of the accident. At least one of the occupants appeared to be still alive. Camille van Hove ran towards the plane on a rescue mission when the fuel tank suddenly exploded and the plane caught fire. He and other nearby villagers were badly burnt. All help came too late for the ten occupants.

A reporting crew rushed to the scene and filmed the wreck.

The crash investigation

The Belgium aviation authorities took the lead, assisted by the British Accidents Air Investigation Branch. Their conclusion was that while flying over West Flanders, the crew had encountered exceptionally poor visibility due to foggy conditions. Apparently lost, the Captain had deviated from the prescribed flight path by 15 km. He decided to reduce his altitude to establish visual contact with the ground. (In those days, pilots did not have any navigational aids.) At that point, the plane collided with the radio mast.

Camille van Hove awarded a medal

The family of one of the people who died in the crash heard about the bravery of Camille van Hove and asked that he be rewarded for his courage. King Albert I took the request to heart and awarded Camille van Hove the Belgian Civic Cross (1st Class). When notified of the honor, Camille van Hove was still in hospital in Brugge recovering from his burns. All the other people involved in the rescue attempt were given a cash reward for their efforts.

Read about other Remarkable Belgians.

4 thoughts on “The bravery of Camille van Hove”

  1. The pilots of those early days of aviation showed much courage. How unfortunate that Camille and other local rescuers on the ground were unable to save the pilots and passengers of the fatal crash.

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