A memorial service is due to take place today (Wednesday) to mark the 40th anniversary of a plane crash in Huntingdon that claimed the lives of five people.

The aftermath of the plane crash in Huntingdon's Oxmoor.The aftermath of the plane crash in Huntingdon's Oxmoor.

Huntingdon Town Council has organised the event to pay tribute to the victims, which included three children, and will unveil a permanent memorial on Sapley Park playing field, in Huntingdon, close to the crash site.

On May 3, 1977, a Canberra PR9 aircraft was returning to its base at RAF Wyton having completed a routine training flight. It was just two miles from the runway when the pilot lost control and nose-dived to the ground, missing the nearby Sapley Park Primary School, which had just rung the lunchtime bell.

One of the pupils who was outside that day was Shaun Collins who remembers hearing “a whooshing sound” before he became aware of the plane just a few hundred feet above him.

“I looked up and saw this huge grey plane above me,” he said.

Head teacher at the school was John Richardson and he told that week’s Hunts Post he heard a “sickening thud”.

“The plane made a u-turn and then appeared to be getting onto the flight path. He was exceptionally low and then he just rolled over and dived into the ground. There was a sickening thud, a fireball and then masses of smoke.”

The five who died included sisters Tracey and Kelly Middleton, aged four and two, who were upstairs playing in the bathroom of their home at number 63. Their parents Frank and Jean also had a six-year-old son called Dean, who was a pupil at Sapley Park Primary School, and was on his way home for lunch as the aircraft crashed into his home, killing his sisters.

Brenda Thompson lived at number 69 Norfolk Road and her six-month-old Adrian also perished.

The pilot, Flt/Lt John Armitage and navigator Flt/Lt Lawrence Davies also died and another six people were injured.

The then Secretary of State for Defence, Frederick Mulley MP, made a statement to the House of Commons the following day and immediately launched an inquiry. He told fellow MPs the weather was good that day and “crew members did not use their ejector seats”.

There were 2,000 families living on the Oxmoor estate at that time and, despite the devastation, just nine homes were destroyed.

As well as the service, which is open for all to attend, there will be a permanent memorial unveiled in the form of a bench and five tree plaques.

A short service, led by Reverend Andrew Milton, will take place on the edge of Sapley Playing Field at midday and include a prayer from Padre Eddie Wynn who will be representing RAF Wyton.

Natasha Pierson, deputy town clerk at Huntingdon Town Council, who helped to organise the event, said: “We have received an amazing level of response from residents of Huntingdon, both past and present, giving recollection of the day that forever changed people’s lives. Talking to so many people who still have very clear memories of the day and asking them to share their recollections has at times been emotional and we hope that by creating an area of memorial, it will provide a fitting tribute to the five lives that were lost and for the families who live on.”

The town council is compiling a book of remembrance to collect people’s thoughts and recollections. This will be made publicly available once completed.

The service starts at midday.