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Lt Philip John Searle RN

Published: 07 Aug 2013

The Association has learned of the death of Lt Philip John Searle RN aged 70.  He lived in France and the USA and leaves a widow, Jan, He is also 

survived by two sons, James and Edward and four grandchildren Emily, Isabelle, Kitty and Alexi.

Chris Blower writes,

Phil grew up in Surrey and after prep school was educated at Elizabeth College, Guernsey –  joining the RN soon after leaving school on a Supplementary Commision to fly.

Michael Dykes writes

‘We went to Dartmouth together in January 1961, but being in different divisions didn’t have much contact.  I do remember being incredibly irritated on the football pitch by a tall elegant creature called Searle forever relieving me of the ball.  In fact Phil was a very talented sportsman, covering a wide range of activities from hockey, cricket, golf, sailing, paragliding and just about everything else he turned his hand to.  We were together on 100 Course throughout our training, in Sea Vixens in 892 NAS, and he was my best man in 1965 shortly before he left the RN, and later on we became firm friends.’

Brian Adams writes

‘We met at Yeovilton on 100 AWF course and got on well both professionally and socially, remaining good friends throughout our naval careers and thereafter.  I teamed up with Phil during the course and most of my flying was with him.

Ask any Vixen observer, and I daresay he will tell you that the ability range between individual pilots is enormous.  Some are naturally gifted in the air and others find the experience rather frightening and close to the limit of their capabilities.  During those early days with 766 NAS I formed the opinion that the chap driving me about the sky knew what he was doing and that there was no cause for concern or alarm.  In the subsequent years I never had any cause to change my opinion.  On completion of the AWF course we joined 890 NAS embarked in HMS Ark Royal on her way home from the Far East.  Phil was possibly the youngest pilot to take a Sea Vixen to the deck.’

Chris Blower writes

‘Shortly after arrival at Yeovilton in March 1965 Phil was detailed to fly the newly joined squadron AEO, Mike Hancock, in a Hunter T8.  Shortly after take off the engine failed and both crew ejected, they and the aircraft landing just to the north of the A303 at Tintinhull.  The local newspaper “(brave pilot in blazing aeroplane saves village!)” made much of Phil’s skill and heroism in avoiding the village school, which was at the far side of the village about a mile away at about 90 degrees from his line of flight!

Brian Adams writes

‘We had a few incidents in the air as most Vixen crews did, but nothing too serious.  One memorable one was when Centaur’s lift was stuck down and we had to divert to RAF Tengah, where as a result of the monsoon the runway was flooded and we hydroplaned, burst two tyres and slid off the runway. The RN aircrew in the officer’s mess bar thought we had both ejected and were surprised at the speed with which we joined them, fresh from the long grass!

RN aircrew were an astonishingly varied group of men, and often a highly efficient all-weather fighter crew consisted of a pair of individuals who were poles apart in terms of background, temperament or outside interests.  Conversely other crews, apart from flying together, enjoyed each other’s company on runs ashore.  Phil and I fell into the latter group and his easy going sense of humour and enthusiastic qualities of leadership made him a naval officer who was held in great affection by all that knew him.’

Nick Pack writes

‘I fondly remember Phil’s wedding to Rose on Guernsey, after which many naval guests travelled back to Yeovilton in a very overloaded Sea Prince intrepidly flown by Colin Walkinshaw.’

Chris Blower writes

“I met Phil at Linton-on-Ouse in 1962 – he was three courses ahead of me, and our paths did not cross again until 1967 when we were QFIs in 759 NAS at Brawdy, teaching newly winged pilots how to fly the Hunter T8.”

After his time at Brawdy on 759, in 1967 Phil moved next door to 738 NAS flying Hunter GA11s and then to Lossiemouth as one of the QFIs on 764.

The senior pilot then was Sir Michael Layard, who remembers Phil as “a very good egg” who whilst he was on the squadron also qualified as an AWI before leaving the RN.

When he left he worked on the sales staff of Alcan and the family lived in Nigeria for several years before Phil joined his father’s business in London.  Sadly, at this point their marriage came to an end.

When Phil joined the sales staff at Eagle Aircraft at Watford (Leavesdon), our friendship reignited – partly because he came to live with us in Little Missenden for several months.

Then, in 1979 he went to Road Town in the British Virgin Islands to work in private and charter boats, and where he met Jan Hayward in 1980.  A year later Robin Crowther and I and our wives spent a memorable fortnight with them in Phil’s lovely old 36ft Nicholson ketch.

They returned to England in 1987 and I was best man to Phil when he married Jan in 1988, after which they lived in Ireland at Killaloe on the Shannon for two years.  Phil’s activities included occasionally driving a tour boat on Loch Derg on the lower reaches of the river, and also looking after a flying boat and flying various float planes.  However, he took a hang gliding course in Derbyshire during which he broke his leg badly enough to have a titanium pin inserted below the knee which pained and frustrated him for the rest of his life but he still umpired sailing races and cricket matches, ferried yachts, played golf and he and Jan lived a very social life.

In the early nineties, Phil and Jan bought a rather run down property hidden away in the Dordogne, which over eleven years they turned into the most delightful haven for themselves and their many visitors; but then Phil got itchy feet again, and they bought a double unit on Villeneuve golf course north of Agen where they lived in the winter and spent the summers of the last few years on the property they built by the coast in Maine, USA.

He was the sort of man with whom, however long he was out of contact, it was effortless to pick up from when one left off, and many of us who counted ourselves as his friends are diminished with his passing.

From Records

He was QFI/AWI of 890 and 892 Squadrons flying Sea Vixens and he flew Hunters with 759 and 764 Squadrons in the 1960s. 

From References

Whilst flying Sea Vixen XJ525 of 892 Squadron HMS Centaur on 30 July 1964, both tyres burst in a night landing, the aircraft skidded to starboard off a wet runway at RNAHU Tengah. 

Whilst flying Hunter WV319 of Heron Flt Yeovilton  on 26 March 1965, the engine failed shortly after take off, both crew ejected, the aircraft crashed in a field close to the A303 sustaining heavy damage.  S/L P J Searle was slightly injured and L/C M W Hadcock was injured.


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