It was 03:30 on Christmas Day 1954 in driving rain when a British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) Boeing 377 Stratocruiser aircraft crashed on landing at Prestwick Airport, Scotland. Twenty-eight of the thirty-six on board were killed. A horrible accident and a terrible loss of life. However some items survived the disaster, including mail and a consignment of diamonds!
The flight originated at Heathrow Airport in London and was scheduled to continue on to New York City from Prestwick, with a fresh crew. Tragically, and probably due to the foul weather, it landed short of the runway at Prestwick, forcing the port landing gear into the wing causing the aircraft to overturn and burst into flames.
The envelopes above and below were recovered from the scene of the accident. More than £1 million worth of uncut diamonds were thought to have been aboard the aircraft. Scotland’s Daily Record & Sunday Mail and Glasgow Herald newspapers ran stories saying that the diamonds were contained in postal packages along with 250 other bags of mail that were also on board. The post office sent staff who took over the entire Prestwick restaurant/canteen to sort through the recovered mail. Only about 300 diamonds were recovered, although the authorities removed all the top soil from the crash site as it was thought that the rescue workers may have inadvertently trod on the diamonds, forcing them into the soft earth. All of this was done at the behest of the insurance organisation Lloyd’s of London, which carried the insurance on the stones.
On May 2nd, 1953, a BOAC Comet aircraft (the de Havilland Comet was the world’s first passenger-carrying jet aircraft) with 43 people on board travelling from the Indian city of Calcutta to London crashed 6 minutes after taking off from Calcutta airport due to an ‘exceptionally’ severe tropical storm. There were no survivors but items of mail were recovered (see above) as was the case with the Prestwick accident.
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