“It’s the sort of thing that affects for you for your entire life ... it’s not something that you ever fully come to terms with.”
These are the words of Pam Bennett, the sister of a St Helens serviceman who was killed 60 years ago in almost identical circumstances to last week’s Malaysian plane craft, which claimed 239 lives.
Pam was just 14 when the news came through that her brother, Sgt David Bennett, had been aboard an aircraft which mysteriously disappeared mid-flight near Singapore in 1953.
Sgt Bennett, who was just 21, had only tied the knot with his sweetheart Sheila Rotherham nine months earlier.
Describing him as “a fantastic big brother”, Ms Bennett said: “My mother and father read the news in the evening paper. It was a terrible time for all the family. The not knowing was the worst thing.
“When David left school he initially went to work in a bank, but hated it so much he joined the RAF. He was a sergeant at 19 and wanted to become a pilot. Our mother died less than two years later, aged just 56, but never gave up hope of him being found.
“I still think about him all the time and I’ve got letters he sent to me from all over the world.”
A letter from the Ministry of Defence’s RAF branch confirmed that Sgt Bennett, who grew up in Rivington Road, was a navigator on Valetta aircraft VX490, which took off in stormy weather from RAF Changi in Singapore for a routine test flight in the early hours of November 11, 1953.
Ten minutes into the flight the aircraft called Singapore Control to report that it had climbed to a position five miles east of Changi but, just three minutes later, a message was received to say “VCO this is Nifty Fox my present position is...”
The transmission was broken and nothing further was heard.
Minutes later witnesses reported seeing a peculiar flash to the east of Changi.
A widespread sea and air search was undertaken, but failed to find any of the seven crew or the wreckage of the aircraft.
Ms Bennett, of Ewart Road, Haresfinch, now 75, had a tree planted in her brother’s name in a military ceremony in Leeds but the family were unable to hold a proper funeral.
She added: “I feel so sorry for all those poor relatives of those of the missing Malaysian aeroplane. It brought it all back to me. I know exactly how they feel.”