It could have been even worse. The de Havilland DH.34 narrowly missed colliding with passenger train headed for Brighton, as the plane lost control on Christmas Eve 1924, in the skies above Purley.
A nurse who lived near the railway was alarmed to see the Imperial Airways plane — which was carrying seven passengers, headed from Croydon to Paris — circle and zig-zag, eventually coming down nose-first into the Kingsdown Estate, Castle Hill, where it burst into flames.
"I ran to the spot, but by the time I got there, the whole of the machine was burned away," one eyewitness told the Yorkshire Evening Post. "I could see in the wreckage the charred remains of bodies... All of the passengers must have died instantaneously. Their clothes were gone and their bodies were black."
Another eyewitness, Mr J Thomas, said "When I came on the scene there was a man's leg sticking out from the wreckage... the heat was so fierce that nothing could be done for him.
"There were explosions every now and then, and they blew sparks all over the place."
All seven passengers, and the pilot, David Stewart, perished in the accident. Even more heart-wrenching; as it happened so quickly, friends and family of the victims, who had just waved off their loved ones, were moments later learning of their horrific deaths.
It was Imperial Airways' first fatal crash, and following an inquiry, the Croydon Aerodrome Extension Act 1925 was passed. From this, Croydon Airport — London's first airport proper, was born.
The Historic Croydon Airport Trust still marks the tragic event.
Also read: A Fatal Air Accident In Golders Green