Today marks 50 years since the fatal plane crash at Vinney Bridge which claimed two lives and left garage owner Ronald Meecham with horrific burns.
Tuesday October 1st 1968 began as a normal working day at the Regent petrol station on South Street. At lunchtime Ron’s daughter Christine left the garage for her lunch break. At around 1.45 pm, Ron was in the garage forecourt when he heard the spluttering engine of an aircraft overhead. “Look out it’s got us,” he shouted, as the Canberra jet nose dived from the sky, crash landed into the bank on the opposite side of the main road and exploded into a ball of flames.
The pilot Capitaine Jean G. Depui of the French Air Force who had earlier taken off from Boscombe Down in Wiltshire was killed instantly and local man Charlie Penman who was racing to the scene to offer his help, suffered a fatal heart attack. Ted Gaskell dialled 999 and asked for all three emergency services to attend. Roy Hart saw Ron Meecham sitting on a nearby wall in a distressed state, his clothes on fire. Roy took off his overalls to fan the flames. Ron’s daughter Christine who was hurrying back from her lunch break was told by passers by that something terrible had happened at the petrol station. Christine said her Dad had horrific injuries and was being given morphine to ease the pain by a doctor.
Ron Meecham spent eight weeks in Frenchay Hospital in Bristol and underwent a significant number of skin grafts. Ron who passed away in October 2013 aged 92 years, always considered himself a lucky man to have survived. The garage had a stock of 5000 gallons of petrol at the time of the plane crash, the shop was on fire, the workshop destroyed and the adjacent house where Ron and his family lived, received structural damage to its roof. Discarded pieces of metal from the British aircraft were strewn across the road. Ron said: “I didn’t expect it to come down on my own doorstep.”
Ten years ago, Crewkerne commemorated the 40th year marker of the tragedy with an exhibition of photographs and newspaper cuttings at Crewkerne & District Museum. Ron’s family were keen to see the 50th anniversary commemorated in the town and by the Media. Sadly Ron’s son Michael Robert Meecham passed away very recently at his home in Crete. We dedicate this news report in Michael’s memory. The photograph of the aftermath of the plane crash was supplied courtesy of Crewkerne Museum. It was taken by the late Dave Wheadon, a respected professional local photographer.