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4: The Incident at Goodwin Sands

A year later Ivan set off on what looked like another routine flight and logged one of the most dangerous exploits of his whole career. Shortly before noon on 19 October 1923 he left Schiphol with three passengers and some valuable oil paintings. The aircraft was a Fokker F3 with registration H-NABH. A strong westerly wind was making headway difficult but he hoped there would be a change for the better once they left the French coast.

The engine was running sweetly as they went over Calais at about 2000 feet. Though the weather worsened, instead of improving, visibility was good, and Ivan sighed in relief as he saw the outline of the English Coast. But his sigh was strangled in a gasp of dismay as a thin trail of steam drifted op from the radiator. If he had a cracked cylinder, as he feared, there would be no hope of making land. The waves on the Channel were chrashing angrily, a machine landing on the sea would be broken up in a matter of seconds.

Zoom in
Click on the map to have a closer look!

Three miles away were the Goodwin Sands. It was low tide and a flat expanse of pale gold lay uncovered. Making a splitsecond decision he altered course slightly and headed for the Goodwins. The East Goodwin lightship rode nearby. If he could land safely on the pale pocket-handkerchief of sand there might be a chance of rescue.

Yellow areas visible at low water

Yes, now the engine revolutions faded out. He could hear the passengers shouting in panic. The aircraft was losing height rapidly. He circled once - no time for another round. Then he was skimming the chur-ning water and - he was down. He had made a perfect landing on Goodwin Sands. Immediately Ivan let off distress rockets - fourteen of them.

The passengers were in panic: "Get us out of here!" "Why don't you call a lifeboat?" shrieked one passenger. Ivan shook his head, the plane carried no radio. Their only hope was that a passing ship would spot them. It was now 25 minutes since they landed. The tide was coming. In another 30 minutes, perhaps less, The Goodwins would claim them. Ivan clambered up on top of the plane's wing calling the passengers to do the same.

Suddenly they observed a rowing-boat, coming from a steamer further away, bobbing up and down, and it was slowly pulling their way. "Saved!... We're saved!... A boat!"

The rescuers, now within hailing distance, yelled through cupped hands: "Swim out, lads, we canna win nearer." But the prospect of rescue had changed the attitude of the passengers. The non-swimmers rejected Ivan's offer of a tow. The swimmer was doubtful whether he could make it, on his own. One man began, inexplicably, demanding that his luggage should be got out of the plane. Ivan, telling the man in barrack-room language just what he could do with his luggage, was, at the same time, signalling to the boatmen that he wanted them to throw a rope. After a while the boatmen managed to pull everybody over, and when Ivan looked back...the plane was breaking up as sand and waves tugged her all ways at once.

The logbook of Ivan Smirnoff for October 1923 is shown above. The logged flights are from 1 October until 20 October. Pilot is himself. Except for the H-NABD which is a Fokker F2, all the machines are F3.

On 1 October he was flying the aircraft Fokker F3 with number H-NABG (only the last letter was written), carrying 1 passenger from Amsterdam (Adam) to Paris and probably taking the same passenger back on 2 October. Flight Time was 3 hours and 45 minutes.

Now, on the unfortunate day of 19 October he was flying aircraft number H-NABH (F3). He carried 3 passengers. After 2 hours and 45 minutes they made an emergency landing on Goodwin Sands due to engine failure.

Afterwards Ivan made some final calculations, summing up to a total of 43-50 hours. The 43 hours refer to real flying time, but he must have felt uncertain how the additional time spent on Goodwin Sands, taking care of the passengers, and the following rescue hours was going to be payed, hence alternatively writing 50 hours. One has to understand that pilots those days were payed by the hour. No flying - no salary.

After the dramatic incident on Goodwin Sands Ivan got himself a new nickname: "Graaf van de Goodwins" or "Earl of the Goodwins".

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