Found after 69 years ... fragments of Spitfire collision over Edinburgh

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IT WAS a tragic accident at the height of the Second World War which was witnessed by hundreds and left a girl haunted by the memory.

• Pauline Scott heard the Spitfire come down while she was playing, at age 11, in the garden of her Edinburgh home. Picture: Toby Williams

In what is thought to have been the only mid-air aircraft crash in central Edinburgh during the conflict, two Spitfires collided over Inverleith, Edinburgh in September 1941.

Now, fragments from one of the fighters have been unearthed in the Royal Botanic Garden after remaining buried for 69 years, The Scotsman has learned. And an eye witness, who was 11 at the time, has spoken of her vivid memories of seeing the plane crash just yards from where she was camping.

The aircraft had been on a training flight from RAF Drem in East Lothian when the collision occurred.

One of the planes, flown by Pilot Officer K M Simpson, crashed into playing fields west of Inverleith Park after he successfully bailed out.

But the other Spitfire crashed into the Botanic Garden and its pilot, Pilot Officer Arthur Searle, 20, from Rhodesia, died after he bailed out too late. He is buried in Dirleton cemetery in East Lothian.

• A spitfire similar to the those based at Drem

While much of the wreckage was removed from the scene after the crash, some parts remained buried in the ground until they were unearthed in this summer's excavation, organised by Leigh Morris, head of education at the Botanics.

They include parts of the engine and cockpit, found 10ft below what was then the curator's private garden.

Mr Morris said: "We found fragments of the aluminium airframe, and the engine's carburetter plate, the stainless steel cockpit catch, and pieces of the Perspex cockpit cover. The aircraft exploded into lots of pieces and the big bits were taken away after the crash."

The excavation site, about 70ft long by 35ft wide, is close to the garden's east gate on Inverleith Row, where a temporary shop had been located.

Pauline Scott, who was 11 at the time, was left haunted by witnessing Searle's Spitfire crashing just 20 yards from her home in Inverleith Row.

Mrs Scott, now 80, said she had been reading with a friend in a tent in the garden when she heard "unusual sounds" from some low-flying planes.

She said: "I peered out of the flaps of the tent and was horrified to see this shape hurtling down towards me. "Visions of newsreel footage and planes exploding when they hit the ground flashed through my mind, and terrified, I attempted to get out of the back of the tent, which was well pegged down.

"Somehow I escaped and made my way, legs like water, to the safety, I hoped, of the house.

"I thought we were going to be obliterated - it was like a nightmare.The plane thankfully hit the ground on the other side of the high stone wall at the top of the garden.

"The droning sound of that falling aeroplane haunted my memory for many years, especially when listening to night-flying aircraft."

A special garden may be created at the Dumfries and Galloway Aviation Museum in Dumfries, which excavated the wreckage, to mark the incident when the fragments are moved there after being displayed at the Botanics.