Kegworth disaster marked 25 years on

Published Wednesday, 08 January 2014
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The 25th anniversary of the Kegworth air disaster, which killed 47 passengers onboard a Northern Ireland bound flight, has been commemorated in Belfast and at an event in the English village close to the crash site.

Kegworth disaster marked 25 years on
A message on flowers at a memorial dedicated to the Kegworth air disaster (© PA)

A British Midland Boeing 737 was on route to Belfast when it suffered engine trouble and came down on an embankment on the M1 on the night of Sunday 8 January 1989.

The plane, with 126 people on board, had taken off from Heathrow when loud bangs were heard coming from the left-hand engine.

But captain Kevin Hunt and his co-pilot David McClelland shut down the correctly-working right-hand engine and efforts to make an emergency landing at East Midlands Airport failed.

Instead, with the runway at East Midlands only a few hundred yards away, the plane, on fire and with blazing debris dropping from it, came down on the M1 embankment.

Most of those that died in the crash were from Northern Ireland.

No one on the ground was injured and 79 people on board, including the two pilots, miraculously survived.

Co Down pensioner, Alan Johnston, now aged 87, escaped the disaster and vividly recalls the fateful night.

He was returning from a trip to London to visit his first grandchild.

He told UTV: "The early part of the flight was pretty normal.

"Until about 20 minutes in there was this dreadful noise, it was like putting a load of large pebbles into a washing machine.

"And then the plane shook violently. I was experienced flyer and knew it was something serious.

"There was a young woman at the window beside me and she was very upset, and I tried to reassure her by telling her they could fly planes with one engine.

"Then I continued to read a book I was totally immersed in."

I remember a brief moment of noisy black chaos and then complete silence and then there was the noise of distress.

Alan Johnston, survivor

He went on: "Then the pilot announced that we were diverting to East Midlands.

"It was dark and I had no idea where we were and then I saw a church spire and thought we were close to landing.

"Then the pilot came over the address system and said to prepare for 'crash landing', which I assumed was a belly flop on the runway, but it wasn't, and then we hit the embankment."

"I couldn't see anything, it was pitch dark, I had no idea where I was, what way up I was, I couldn't move and I was in pain," he recalled.

"Then after a short while I heard firefighters spraying foam on the fuselage and thought I was going to be saved.

"And that sound of the foam was very comforting."

Mr Johnston was trapped for hours while rescuers attempted to reach him.

He suffered a smashed pelvis and lost large amount of blood and still walks with a limp to this day.

He added: "I remember going in and out of consciousness and hearing sounds of people coming toward us.

"I checked with the woman at the window and she was ok and we held hands at times while we waited, but another woman close to me had died.

"I was one of the lucky ones, I and others survived and they are always on our minds.

"The whole experience was worse for the families than it was for me.

"I was under the care of our expert health service and for me it was a mental blank, but the families suffered much, much more than me.

"For many they faced long agonising waits to learn the fate of their loved ones and of course many were not as fortunate as I was."

I thought everyone would be dead. The plane had come down very close to our house and my son and I rushed up to the scene.

Jeff Gill, one of the first on the scene

In the aftermath of the disaster the people of Kegworth were praised for their quick thinking and bravery in coming to the aid of those on the plane.

One of the first on the scene was photographer Jeff Gill, now aged 73.

He recalled: "The aircraft was very low and then suddenly we heard this explosion.

"When we got there it was pitch dark but amazingly some people were climbing out of the back of the aircraft.

"Others were hanging precariously from seatbelts and facing a 20 to 30ft drop to the ground.

"I managed to look after people as they got out. Incredibly, some seemed unscathed.

"One guy was wandering around in a bit of a daze, but he was unhurt."

AA patrolmen arriving in the scene spoke at the time of "complete devastation with seats and bodies piled up everywhere", while villagers spoke of their amazement that anyone had got out alive.

Survivors spoke of the eerie silence after the crash and many vowed never to fly again.

At Derbyshire Royal Infirmary a major accident was put into operation.

From the hospital a medical flying squad of 16 doctors and nurses travelled to the scene to treat survivors.

Surgeons carried out more than 80 operations during the first 36 hours after the crash.

A memorial in Kegworth Cemetery was erected by the parish council "to those who died, those who were injured and those who took part in the rescue operation".

On Wednesday, Kegworth Parish Council clerk Lesley Pendleton laid flowers on a memorial site in the village and prayers were said at a Holy Communion service at the nearby St Andrew's Church.

A memorial service was also held at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast where 47 candles were lit in memory of the victims of the tragedy.

© UTV News
Comments Comments
1 Comments
fred in lisburn wrote (236 days ago):
god bless the families who lost loved ones. also the suvivors and the crew and their families at this time
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