The following story is used by kind permission of the webmaster of the Great Lightning website:
XM990 was first flown on 21/9/61 and delivered to LCS Middleton St George, being uncoded at this time. On 1/6/63, the LCS was retitled 226 OCU and the T4 tailcoded 990. Middleton St George was sold to become Teeside Airport and 226 OCU relocated to Coltishall. The following is an account of the loss of T4 XM990 as it was related to me by an RAF engineer based at Coltishall and now working for Air UK at Norwich. He was detailed to retrieve the ejection seats, PSP and canopy from the crash site. I also talked to two eye-witnesses, one of whom bid for the Binbrook Lightnings when they were sold off, the other being my brother in law.
It had been decided to perform a diamond 16 fly-past in the Battle of Britain Open Day at RAF Coltishall on 19/9/70, and Lightning T4 XM990 was included. The week prior to the open day, XM990 was undergoing checks to solve control problems which added to the already high workload the maintenance engineers were under preparing 16+ Lightnings for the flying display. After an air test and practicing the formation, XM990 was ready. Large crowds enjoyed the open day and the flying, highlighted by the diamond 16 formation. Late in the afternoon, one of the Lightnings, flown by Sqn Ldr Eric Hopkins, encountered brake problems when landing, blocking the runway. The remaining aircraft, including '990, were diverted to Wattisham.
It was early evening before Coltishall became operational again and '990 approached the airfield. Suddenly and without any warning the Lightning started corkscrewing, losing height with every revolution. Swiftly assessing the situation, the pilot applied power and pulled the aircraft up at the top of each corkscrew, gaining precious height. To people on the ground it appeared that the pilot was staging an impromptu display of his own, but inside the plane the crew of Flt Lt John Sims and Flt Lt Brian Fuller knew differently - they had lost control!
Eye-witnesses watched as something appeared to fall off the plane; it was, in fact, the canopy, followed by one of the crew ejecting. The pilot had to time his ejection on the next upward corkscrew, which by now was getting very close to the ground. As he left the aircraft it had time to complete only 1½ more turns before crashing inverted into a small wood bordering the A1140 Norwich to South Walsham road very close to the village of Little Plumstead. Part of the tail unit was hurled across the road, inches in front of a car which stopped with debris and soil covering the bonnet. There was no fuel fire, but parts of the wreckage had caught fire.
Local people hurried to assist the crew. One had parachuted into a wood. He was located in a small clearing, having removed his helmet and lifejacket, and complained of pains to the back of his neck. His parachute was hanging about ten feet up a tree. He was concerned about the other crewman and also about where the Lightning had crashed. He said he had had only seconds before the crash to eject and asked them to tell his wife he was OK. As he was speaking, the other crewman came into the clearing looking for him and upon seeing each other they both looked greatly relieved. The Coltishall SAR Whirlwind soon arrived and took them to hospital, one of them on a stretcher. The crash site was cordoned off for nearly a week while the wreckage was examined by the RAF before it was removed, along with tons of topsoil; even today you can see the depression.
The inquiry, following the crew's evidence, concentrated on the controls and control surfaces. Helped by the lack of a major fire, it was found that one of the aileron linkages had not been securely fitted and had vibrated out with the aileron movement causing loss of control. Fortunately, the crash of XM990 did not result in any loss of life or any great damage to property. I'm not 100% sure that the ranks given for Sqn Ldr Hopkins and the crew of XM990 are correct, but the rest of the facts are correct to the best of my knowledge.
My interest was stimulated by the plane crashing some two miles from where I used to live and only 600 yards from my brother-in-law's bungalow. He thought his time had come when he saw the jet heading straight for him until it veered away on its last corkscrew and hit the trees. Apart from this connection, it was only later during the Manx Grand Prix on the Isle of Man racing motorcycles that I found out that my friend Tony Martin was stationed at Coltishall and worked on the Lightnings with 226 OCU. He even declined a flight in a T4. He reckoned it was too risky, and this from a man who has finished 4th in the Manx Grand Prix on a TZ350 Yamaha!!