12 Jun 1954, Spitfire crash in Port Shelter, Sai Kung | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

12 Jun 1954, Spitfire crash in Port Shelter, Sai Kung

Date(s) of events described: 
Sat, 12 Jun 1954

I recently heard a story about a privately owned Spitfire crashing into Sai Kung's Port Shelter some time in the 1950's. Do any of the old timers (or historically minded new timers) have any recollection of any stories related to this - or is it just an urban rumour?


Spitfire is a piece of military machine & chance is small to fall into private hands in the 50’s.  The book “Winged Dragon, The History Of The Royal Hong Kong Auxiliary Air Force” ISBN 962 217 466 3 may have the answer if the Spitfire is operated by RHKAAF. It does mention the accidents involving RHKAAF with Roll of Honour.

isdl, thanks for the reply. I am sceptical myself but the source of this "rumour" is usually pretty reliable so I didn't want to dismiss it without a bit of further research. I will track down the book and have a delve and let you know.

The local aviation record indicates that was never a privately owned Spitfire. The book 'Winged Dragon'is a good source of information about Spitfires that operated in Hong Kong in the 1950s. The book recounts of an Auxiliary Air Force Mk 24 Spitfire (registration PK 719) that crashed in Port Shelter in June 1954 during air-to-ground firing practice.

your knowledge is unsurpassable. Wow, nice to know my source gets proven right (again).

I have tried to look for the book but it was last printed in '96 and am havinga bit of trouble tracking it down. 

Do you know if it was raised? - it would make a nice project for us if we could locate the wreckage. 

The public library search shows they have several copies.

I may not get a chance for a while (possibly several weeks).

If the plane is still there it would be great to dive and have a look. 

A salvage operation was conducted but whether or not the entire aircraft was retrieved, I cannot say. According to 'Winged Dragon' there were reports of pieces of the aircraft flying off it prior to impact. The body of the pilot was never recovered. The book goes on to say that years later an RAF pilot flying over the same area in Port Shelter on a dead calm day noticed 'through exceptionally crystal clear water the incredible sight of the unmistakable elliptical-winged shape of a Spitfire lying on the seabed.'The date of the crash was 12 June 1954.

A search for 'spitfire' in the local newspapers from Jun 1954 to 1959 turned up two articles, one of which is relevant:

Spitfire crash in Port Shelter - Newspaper clipping

Please keep us updated if you find out more about it.

this is interesting stuff. Unfortunately the clarity of the water doesn't get much beyond about 8 metres these days, and that is on a good day. I was out by Ninepins today and the water viz was only about 5 metres. Still considered quite good for HK diving.

I guess if some of the wing was still down there, I am wondering what sort of shape it would be in now, maybe totally disintegrated by wave and trawler action?

edit/ actually, the text quality isn't great on the article but I can discern the mention of "Port Shelter Island". WOuld this be the proper name for what is now known as just "Shelter Island"?

Yes, Shelter Island would be correct. Shelter Island, Basalt Island and neighbouring smaller islands in Port Shelter demarcated the limits of the Basalt Island Firing Range that were used for aircraft firing practice and later by Royal Naval gunnery exercises.

I asked a friend who has experience of diving wrecks:

I heard rumors of this one, some time ago, but have no detailed info. In my opinion, there wouldn't be much left of this after 50+ years.

The local bsac boys are into this sort of thing, so you might try:

I can find records of two such spitfire crashes in the seas of Hong Kong in the 50s:

  • PK716   F24   SM  G61
    test flown Flt/Lt Wigley 20min 33MU 30-9-46 RNAS Renfrew 4-7-49 Seletar 2-8-49 80S 5-9-49 Hit sea during practice attack off Hong Kong and blew up 27-2-50 SOC
  • PK719  F24   SM  G61
    test flown L R Colquhoun 15min 6-3-46 33MU 9-10-46 FEAF 28-3-50 MBFE storage 18-5-50 80S Kai Tak 20-9-50 HKAAF 15-5-52 Engine cut stalled and dived into sea off Shelter Island Hong Kong FAC5 12-6-54 

I believe PK719 is what you are referring to and date is listed as 12th June 1954. It is listed as stationed at Kai Tak under HKAAF at the time.

I have a group of friends I dive with on a regular basis and we are always looking for more interesting things.

There are rumours that a wealthy HK businessman may be in a position to buy the Minsk and get it sunk in HK waters, but don't know if or when this will happen (it's currently a theme park on the Shenzhen coast).

There is so much junk in and around HK waters - a car in Lobster Bay (a remnant of its previous use as smugglers cove), a jeep in Bluff Island (Ung KOng) Bay, large bore pipework /sheet metal and small fishing boats around Port Island (as opposed to Port Shelter Island), and I once found what I think was an engine block over in Nam Shue Wan. 

This stuff is easier to find than the fish ;-) 

Well, I did eventually borrow the book from Tai Po library and although intending just to read the spitfire stuff, got totally engrossed in it and ending up reading it all. Great book, great recommendation, and some great photos as well.

I've been back to Shelter Island three times since this post but was limited to the northern and western coastline.

(I think??) I may have seen some old munitions - some old projectile shaped things about a foot long (didn't look like fishing paraphenalia, but I am no expert on either subjects) - and thought better of closer inspection. Seems as though unexploded ordnance is a common find in HK waters.

Just a shame the book doesn't mention which side of the island the plane landed in to narrow the search because it's a big island.

Hi - have read with some interest the History of the Spitfire by Morgan and Shacklady and made a note of any that may be of potencial salvage. In surfing the net for further info on PK719 came across batgung.com and your exchanges and the  China Mail report of 12.12.54 -  There is another  F.24  - VN491 (the fifth but last built) that was reported as hitting water on recovering from a spin 2 miles S of Ninepin island circa 1950. - p.s have you made any diving progress on your search for PK719?

Hi Vanden, alas my feet have not touched water since last August, at least no diving in Port Shelter anyway. Even somewhere like Shelter Island is a pretty big area to cover and, as said previously, fifty years of wave action and trawling will probably have destroyed whatever was there. However, next time I am there I will be keeping an eye open.

Two miles south of the Ninepins? Too imprecise a location considering the number of islands in the Ninepin group, plus it sounds a bit too near to the shipping lanes. What we need is a nice big boat with decent sonar :-)

A rather jumpy video without audio of 80 Squadron training exercises in Hong Kong. Probably RAF Hornets at the Port Shelter Firing Range?


Yes they look like Hornets, single seat fighter versions of the Mosquito. "C " class destroyer, and Sunderland flying boat also featured.   I think this is camera gun footage, taken by forward facing camera on the aircraft, for post-exercise analysis. 

I only just found this post again and watched that video - it looks like they were also flying over Tolo Harbour because there is the unmistakable image of the KCR railway at some point: next to water and going into a tunnel which can perhaps only mean the area around Tai Po Kau?

Just stumbled on this post years too late, but it rang a bell for me. I talked to my Dad, and it matched a story of his. (Depending when in the 60s it was, he'd have been in his teens or early 20s at the time).

In his words:

 "We dived in the 1960's off a friend's junk for a Spitfire that had crashed in the 50's off Shelter Island. We surmised (were told??) it was likely to be in a shallow area shown on the chart, but had probably long since been picked up in nets and sold as scrap. Found a few indeterminate bits, but Shelter Island was a live fire area and full of rubbish. I picked up a live mortar round once!"

So no sign of it in the 60s, but they could have missed it, or it could just have been removed already. Certainly, people were still aware of it a decade later.

My Dad also pointed out that according to the Aviation Safety Network, another aircraft was lost off Shelter Island less than 12 months earlier. First a Vampire of RAF 28 Squadron (WG875) crashed there on 8th July 1953, then the Spitfire we've been discussing here on 12th June 1954.