View Full Version : Stolen Vickers Varsity

John (Gary) Cooper
8th Dec 2003, 23:31
Does anyone recall the groundcrew airman who entered a RAF Vickers Varsity in 1955, started both engines, taxied to the runway, took off, flew south and crashed somewhere over France.

I always recall the headlines in the papers, but where was the Varsity based, trade and rank of the airman involved and where it crashed in France?

8th Dec 2003, 23:37
There was a thread on the mil forum a few months back about a love-lorn USAF airman who nicked a C-130 from Mildenhall in the mid-60s and crashed in France (or was shot down? I don't remember exactly...)

9th Dec 2003, 00:26
Well, this is an extraordinary coincidence, because sitting alongside my keyboard is a file of notes about this very incident. It happened on 26 April 1955. The 'pilot' was one Nick Agnani, a Parsee Indian of British citizenship serving in the RAF as a groundcrewman, his colour-blindness having failed him as potential aircrew something that nagged at him, according to memories of colleagues. He was based at RAF Thorney Island and is said to have taken two flying lessons at nearby Portsmouth Aero Club, whose CFI, Sqn Ldr Harry 'Mitch' Mitchell advised him not to waste any more of his money as he lacked aptitude. Agani reportedly spent much of his off-duty time alone in his billet, reading aircraft technical and navigation manuals. On the evening in question he got aboard a 2 ANS Varsity, WF426, started it, made unsteady progress to the runway, and took off, passing very low over the sea wall where some of his fellow airman were cockling. Somehow he crossed the Channel, but crashed into a farmhouse at Onnaing, near Valenciennes in northern France, killing himself and three people in the house. I've seen an eyewitness report that prior to stealing the Varsity, Agnani had been caught in the off-limits hangar at Thorney which housed a detachment from the Aerial Torpedo Development Unit at Gosport, said then to have been operating three Canberras. Some say he was homesick and planned to fly back to his family, others that he simply wanted to prove that he could be a pilot. Either way, it ended tragically.

9th Dec 2003, 01:20
According reports in the The Times of Tuesday 26 and Wednesday 27 April 1955 the "pilot" is quoted as being LAC N Agnoni, it goes on to say that the Varsity took off at about 8pm on the 25th with enough fuel for 8 hours. It was closely followed by another Varsity in pusuit piloted by HJB Smiles (the duty flight commander). Initial reports stated that it had crashed in the Lea Valley but confirmation was reported as Onnaing.

Cornish Jack
9th Dec 2003, 05:49
I was at Thorney at the time and remember the stir it caused. The Varsity was a delight to fly but I reckon it needed a bit more stick time than this chap had.
It was about that time that we lost another Varsity with double engine fire or failure. The crew baled out onto Dartmoor or Exmoor and the Varsity landed itself along the bed of a stream with remarkably little apparent damage.
The stolen Varsity was a sort of 'copycat' episode following a similar theft of a Prentice from Swanton Morley some months earlier.

Pom Pax
9th Dec 2003, 16:43
A couple of points,
Firstly, a quote from a post of mine on a gliding school thread.
"An S.A.C. Dixon used to hang around and often drove the winch. He borrowed a Prentice one night and took it to Belgium to visit his girl friend. I think the R.A.F. then sent him to the funny farm."
It was summer time and he went in the early hours and just after dawn put it down unharmed on a concrete farm road close to his destination. He was reasonable glider pilot.
Secondly at T.I. a couple of years later the duty officer rang the duty sgt at 3.00 a.m. claiming a Varsity had gone missing. Obviously bearing in mind this incident he (an education F.O.) had earlier counted the number of Varsities outside and now there was one less. Needless to say it was found now inside for maintenance.
Now back to the thread, the varsities were generally fueled for 8h40m ready for morning use. The distance to the 1st threshold was not great and if you knew how no problem to start on your own as 1 fitter discovered. Having finished his job he decided to test it but couldn't be bothered to fetch his mate. Result th, th, th, fires, loud crack, engine stops. It wasn't chocked and bits of trolley ac scattered over 300- yards. the cable was by the guard room!
That's the only thing about this story Agnoni had to disconnect the trolley ac or did he have help? Though I doubt if many would have initially taken much notice of an a/c being started up.

9th Dec 2003, 17:26
According to a fellow LAC who was billeted with Agnani, he'd said something about his plan to steal an aircraft earlier in the day, but no one took it seriously. By all accounts Agnani was a loner who did not socialise with his peers, and his death was 'regarded with some indifference'. Seems unlikely he'd have had help with the trolley acc, therefore. As you say, Pom Pax, nobody paid much attention to the start-up, most assuming it was an air test prior to the start of night flying, but according to the LAC quoted above, someone said 'I bet that's Nick' when they saw the Varsity making uncertain and over-corrected progress to the threshold.

John (Gary) Cooper
9th Dec 2003, 20:36
Thank you so much for these very positive replies.

I guess Nick Agnani was trying to make a point, damn good job he didn't decide to fly on to Paris or the likes. When on No 1 ANS at Stradishall the Varsities we used to ground test after servicing were started by trolley acc's but I'm just wondering that in an emergency situation (or in Agnani's case) starting port engine on aircrafts battery system would have been possible?

9th Dec 2003, 21:28

I'm still looking into this and hope to talk with one of Agnani's fellow LACs sometime in the future. I'll keep you posted. Hadn't heard of the Prentice incident, and thought the Varsity affair might have been a unique occurence.

Pom Pax
9th Dec 2003, 21:45
Incident got pretty full coverage and pictures in "The Eastern Daily Press" and some mention in the nationals.

Ps I think it was possible to start on batteries as a humble back(wards facing) driver I seem to remember a frustrated captain trying this after draining two trolley accs..........still didn't work..........u/s priming pump!