If only there was an online archive…


A parachutist comes to earth with an unpleasant bump, as did a helicopter attempting to winch him free, during an early 70s Aldridge Show. We’d like to know more about this: what do you remember? Image courtesy of the Express & Star photo archive.

Nearly two years ago, in March 2014, I featured a rather remarkable image here supplied by Chris Leggett of the Express & Star, which he had released as an example of the remarkable stuff to be found hidden in the newspapers archive, which the paper is still in the process of bidding for funding to put online.

The image – of parachutist Kenneth Cornwell falling to the ground during an aerial stunt that went wrong at a 1973 Summer Fair in Aldridge – is stunning, and garnered a lot of interest, and we found out over time more about the event and those involved.

Last December, I was contacted by Peter Nesbit, who witnessed the incident, and was interested in telling me more. In the course of his subsequent research, Peter contacted the Express & Star, who offered to run the story of Peter’s eyewitness account, which appeared in yesterday’s paper (Saturday, 16th January 2016).

It’s a fascinating account, and really adds to the history of this unique and curious event. It’s sad though, that they didn’t mention the reason the image had come to light – the paper’s bid to digitise their archive, without which, the image would have stayed hidden.

I have asked several times for readers to show support for the Express & Star in their bid to gain funding to digitise and open to the public their photo archive – a huge treasury of newspaper images that current exist in print form only – and that request still stands. This is a hugely important historical rescue that I think we’d all like to see made widely accessible and searchable.

Chris Leggett, who’s worked hard on the bid, continues to tweet and post to Facebook fascinating images from the archive that open up historical events just like this one.

You could always Like the Express & Star photo bid on Facebook while you’re about it.

Scan 1

From the Express & Star, Saturday 17th January 2016. Click for a larger version.

Moment parachutist plummeted to earth
Report by Carl Jackson

Rescuer relives how air display ‘went horribly wrong’

IT was the horrifying moment a parachutist plunged 40ft after being caught on a pylon and a rescue helicopter crashed moments later.

Now a Walsall man, who was among a crowd trying to catch RAF Sgt Kenneth Cornwell using tarpaulin, has recalled the scenes after seeing this picture on the internet more than 40 years later.

Peter Nesbit was just 19 when he attended the Aldridge Summer Fair on July 7, 1973, with its display from a parachute team.

But the summer frivolities soon turned to near tragedy after one parachutist got caught on the way down.

Mr Nesbit said: “This particular team member came down directly between the two lines of high-power live cables carried on either side of the pylons, and his parachute caught on the single topmost cable, leaving him suspended helplessly in an incredibly perilous position surrounded by power lines”

Fire crews and about 20 volunteers assembled a safety net out of tarpaulin in an attempt to catch the stranded stuntman. An Army helicopter belonging to the 15/16th Queens Royal Lancers dropped a harness for Sgt Cornwall to latch himself onto but then disaster struck. “It all went horribly wrong,” said Mr Nesbit.

“Without warning, the parachutist was pulled back up and then he suddenly fell, along with the loose rescue cable, about 40 feet.

“He landed face down flat on the ground with a loud thud that shook the ground, missing the tarpaulin by about 10 feet. Within a second or two the helicopter came down too, crashing just a few yards from us on the other side of a hedge.”

The stricken aircraft burst into flames but amidst the smoke the two pilots emerged from the wreckage.

The attempted rescuers and the volunteers were soon ushered away by emergency services. So it wasn’t until some months later Mr Nesbit, now 61 and from Streetly, discovered that parachutist Sgt Cornwell had survived.

In 1997 he was tracked down to Australia where he revealed the accident left him with a ‘crooked back and no elbows’.

It is believed the helicopter was blown out of position by the wind flinging the dangling stuntman away from the safety net after the rescue line wrapped around the tail rotor blade disabling the aircraft and bringing it down.

Mr Nesbit noticed the picture, taken originally by former Express & Star photographer Geoff Wright, on Facebook recently.

He added: “I had never seen that picture before – I thought flipping ‘eck I was in that. I tell people about what happened but I had no idea it had been photographed.”

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5 Responses to If only there was an online archive…

  1. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    a telephone chat with our own retired fire officer,Godfrey Hucker,aka Oakparkrunner, brings further information which will not have appeared in the first press report.
    The fire officer, seen in the image ,wearing the white helmet was Station Officer Alan Ball of Walsall Fire Station, who turned out to the incident described above. Perhaps the Fire Service’s own records will help to give a fuller, official account of this incident, if such records are available.
    My thanks to Godfrey for this information.
    kind regards

    • John Colam says:

      David, The fire office in the photo is me John Colam I was OIC and attended from Lichfield and I have the full record of the event. I also attended the enquiry conducted by the RAF. Sorry to contradict.

      • David Evans says:

        Hello John
        no problems at all..delighted to receive your correction in fact…and, if possible, would welcome the record details you kindly mention whenever you can, please.
        my very best wishes

  2. Sarah Cornwell says:

    Good morning,

    I was pointed in the direction of your article by my sister-in-law regarding the photograph above.

    Sgt. Kenneth Cornwell is alive and well and living in Albany, Western Australia.

    I met Ken when I was working in the north west of WA, and he told me what had happened to him.
    His injuries still give him a bit of bother but apart from the odd twinge in cold weather, he’s fit and healthy, considering it’s been 44 years since it happened.

    He has a copy of the above photograph wher he sees it everyday-I think it reminds him of how lucky he is to be alive, and of everybody who responded. He was advised to move to a hot dry climate, hence the move to Western Australia. He retrained as a physical education teacher and is still teaching today.

    Sarah Cornwell

  3. Andy Mabbett says:

    Minutes of a British Parachute Association discussion of the incident, which suspended Cornwell’s instructor’s instructor-ratings, are on page 27 of this issue of their journal:


    Details of the helicopter involved, a Westland Sioux AH.1, registration XT238, are here:


    Further reminisces by Peter Nesbit are at:


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