Keith Cordell still has vivid memories of the horrific crash involving an RAF Blackburn Beverley transport plane near Abingdon 50 years ago.

He was in the playground of Drayton village school in March, 1957 when two friends saw the stricken aircraft and called out: "Look, it's a flying saucer."

The huge four-engined plane, one of the largest types then in service, had taken off from RAF Abingdon on a flight to Nicosia, in Cyprus, with 10 service guard dogs and their handlers among the passengers on board.

Soon after getting airborne, the crew radioed that they were experiencing engine trouble and were turning back.

The aircraft never reached the airfield, plunging to destruction in the hamlet of Sutton Wick, near Drayton. Seventeen people, including two civilians, were killed.

Mr Cordell, now of Llangollen, North Wales, who was 10 at the time, recalls: "We could see this shiny object travelling against the blue sky. After a short time, we heard a deep thud, and a black mushroom cloud rose into the sky.

"I can remember feeling my blood drain away and feeling cold and giddy - we thought a war had started, and it was an atom bomb exploding.

"I remember the whole school had a sense of panic. The headmaster made us all go back to our classrooms, and I don't remember having any more lessons that day.

"Eventually, we heard that a Beverley plane had crashed and that it had been carrying Alsatian dogs.

"When I got home, there was still smoke rising from the crash site. We lived in a bungalow at the end of Crabtree Lane, and the plane had crashed about 150 yards or so across the meadow at the end of the lane.

"Apart from the 'mushroom cloud', my most vivid memory is of looking through the open door of a classroom and seeing a boy slumped on his arms at a desk, totally distraught, having been told that his mother had been killed.

"I believe their bungalow was completely flattened, so at least she didn't suffer.

"After a couple of days, the barriers were taken from the crash site and with the ghoulish fascination of childhood, I went to look. There was not a lot to see, but I do remember the blackness, and a wheel and its undercarriage sticking out of the Sutton Wick farm wall.

"I didn't stop long, and remember looking across the meadow at our home, and thinking 'it could have been my mum...'"