An RAF pilot who gave his life to divert his crippled fire away from a school was remembered on the anniversary of his death by one of the students he rescued.
Tom Fitch, now 91, was only 14 when the Spitfire, flown by pilot Raimund Sanders Draper, developed catastrophic engine failure in the sky above what was then Suttons Senior School in March 1943.
Instead of throwing it out, the American, who was an RAF volunteer, steered the Spitfire away from the school in Hornchurch, Essex and landed on the field.
The 29-year-old died in the fireball, but the 1,000 children who watched in horror from their classrooms were unharmed. In 1973 the school was renamed Sanders Draper School in his honor.
For the anniversary, the school honored Raimund’s sacrifice and quick thinking this week with a ceremonial laying of a wreath at the hero’s grave.
Mr. Fitch, now 91, who has two children, three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, said from his home in Billericay, Essex, “We heard that humming, whirring sound, and then the teacher called us all down.”
“Then there was an almighty crash. There was no stopping then, we all ran outside and saw the devastation. The plane was completely upside down.
“It’s hard to describe. If the plane had hit the school, it would have been utterly disastrous.
Mr. Fitch added, “I lived a full life and had a wonderful family. Sander Draper’s decision that day changed the course of history.
“He gave his life to save others and we are all very grateful for that. It was a brave and heroic act. “
During the Second World War, Sanders Draper was stationed in Hornchurch as part of Squadron No. 64.
On the day of the accident, his Spitfire had taken off from a nearby airfield, but the plane quickly developed a problem and cut out completely at an altitude of 200 feet.
Sanders Draper could have got out of the vehicle safely, but instead steered it into the ground so as not to hit the two-story school building that was right in his way.
Current Headmaster Stuart Brooks says the legacy of Sanders Draper’s heroism continues to inspire students today.
On the anniversary of the crash, he laid a wreath on the hero’s grave in St. Andrews Church in Hornchurch.
He said, “This was a real act of bravery and the exploits of Raimund Sanders Draper saved the students in the building, like Tom.
“He allowed the students and staff to live full lives. He continues to inspire future generations and clearly shows that anyone can be a hero.
“As he showed, it’s about making bold decisions, thinking about others, and doing what is necessary.
“He’s a real inspiration to the students, staff and the local community. I am delighted that the school is rightly called Sanders Draper again in September and that we will continue to show our respect for the ultimate sacrifice he has made. “