`I shot down Amy Johnson's plane' admits old soldier

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SHE was the feminist icon of her time, the first woman to fly solo to Australia. But the fatal crash that claimed Amy Johnson's life has always been shrouded in mystery.

Now it seems her death was a cruel combination of bad luck, a bad memory and a keen gunner at an anti-aircraft battery on the river Thames.

Yesterday, old soldier Tom Mitchell, from Crowborough, Kent, claimed that it was he who shot the heroine down when she twice failed to give the correct identification code during a routine flight on 5 January, 1941.

Eleven years earlier Johnson had stunned the world, breaking gender stereotypes and taboos of the time, by flying from England to Australia.

Nearly 60 years on, Mr Mitchell, aged 83, admits to a pressing sense of guilt for killing a cultural icon. But following recent family deaths he felt he had to set the record straight.

He said: "The reason Amy was shot down was because she gave the wrong colour of the day [a signal to identify planes known by all British forces] over radio."

Mr Mitchell was one of more than 20 soldiers based at the Thames Estuary, who were ordered to shoot down the unidentified plane flying towards the English Channel on 5 January, 1941. Unknown to Mr Mitchell and his colleagues the pilot was the legendary Amy Johnson, who was serving as an Air Transport Auxiliary pilot.

Mr Mitchell explained how the plane was sighted and contacted by radio. A request was made for the signal - she gave the wrong one twice.

"Sixteen rounds of shells were fired and the plane dived into the Thames Estuary. We all thought it was an enemy plane until the next day when we read the papers and discovered it was Amy. The officers told us never to tell anyone what happened."