Amy Johnson: Last piece of plane involved in horror fatal crash sold to Kent museum

The relic from Amy Johnson's plane will go on display at the Kent Battle of Britain Museum - who paid £3,673.60 at Hansons Auctioneers based in Derbyshire Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

The only known fragment of wreckage from a pioneering female pilot's doomed aircraft has been won at auction by a British war museum.

Amy Johnson, the first woman to fly solo from London to Australia, died when her plane crashed near Herne Bay, off the Kent coast, on 5 January 1941.

The relic is believed to have come from the plane's parachute exit door which Ms Johnson would have used to leap from in the crash.

The 83-year-old item was won by the Kent Battle of Britain Museum for £3,673.60 at Hansons Auctioneers based in Derbyshire.

The fragment from Amy Johnson’s plane, which crashed in the Thames Estuary near Herne Bay in 1941 Credit: Hansons/PA

Dave Brocklehurst, chairman, curator and volunteer at the museum, said: “We’re delighted to secure this item. It will join the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) display at the museum.

“Amy was one of the original ATA girls. It’s important to commemorate someone who lost her life in Herne Bay, preserve a piece of history and keep it in Kent.”

Matt Crowson, head of militaria at Hanson's, said: “We’re delighted this amazing find will be preserved for posterity in Kent. There was huge interest in this item, and deservedly so.”

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The crash happened when Ms Johnson, who was 37 at the time, was piloting an Airspeed Oxford for the ATA from Prestwick to RAF Kidlington, near Oxford.

The aircraft reportedly ran out of fuel, forcing Ms Johnson to bail out before it crashed into the Thames Estuary near Herne Bay. Ms Johnson’s body was never found.

The incident was initially blamed on poor weather conditions but it was later claimed that the plane was downed by friendly fire.

The Amy Johnson lot sold by Hansons in Derbyshire Credit: Hansons/PA

Mr Crowson continued: “The item was inherited by our vendor from his uncle, Ronald Arthur Clark, both from Enfield, North London.

"Ronald said he’d scooped it out of the water and put it in his pocket during efforts to rescue Amy.

“Back in 1941 Ronald was an Able Seaman on HMS Berkeley, an escort vessel in the English Channel.

“It was among ships which attempted to rescue Amy after her parachute was spotted coming down."

Ronald’s Royal Navy service records confirm his service on HMS Berkeley at the crash site in 1941. Credit: Hansons/PA

Mr Crowson added: "She was seen alive in the water, calling for help, however, conditions were poor.

“There was a heavy sea and a strong tide, snow was falling and it was intensely cold.

"Ropes were thrown to Amy but she couldn’t reach them. Her flying bag, log book and chequebook later washed up nearby.

The reverse of the fragment was inscribed by Ronald Clark. It states, ‘piece of fuselage from Amy Johnson’s plane, crashed 1941’. Credit: Hansons

No other pieces of the aircraft are thought to exist - making the discovery of the plane fragment significant.

The fragment is constructed from two layers of thin plywood, glued together and set at a 45-degree angle for maximum strength.

It was confirmed to be from the aircraft due to the style of manufacture, paint colours, service records, anecdotal evidence, and the fact that this type of aircraft would not have routinely been in the area.

Amy "broke the mould" for women and raised expectations about what they could achieve in life. Credit: Hansons

In the pre-war years, she worked as a commercial pilot, a journalist, and even a fashion model, creating her own travelling bag.

Early in WW2 she joined the Air Transport Auxiliary, which transported RAF aircraft around the country.

Mr Crowson said: "We can never be absolutely certain what happened to her that fateful day in 1941, other than it was a terrible accident.

"In 1999, it was reported her death may have been caused by friendly fire. Sussex man Tom Mitchell claimed to have shot her aircraft down when she twice failed to give the correct identification code during the flight.

"He said, ‘Sixteen rounds of shells were fired and the plane dived into the Thames Estuary.

"We all thought it was an enemy plane until the next day when we read the papers and discovered it was Amy. The officers told us never to tell anyone what happened’.

"Sadly, it was also later claimed Amy had been sucked into the blades of a ship’s propellers during the rescue bid.

"A tragic end for a life lived to the full. This discovery reminded us of Amy’s indomitable spirit of adventure.”

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