Ceremony to mark 25th anniversary of Kegworth air disaster
Published 08/01/2014 | 20:18
Villagers laid flowers and and shared a prayer in a poignant ceremony to mark the 25th anniversary of the Kegworth air disaster which killed 47 people.
The British Midland Boeing 737 was travelling to Belfast when it suffered engine trouble and came down on an embankment on the M1 in Leicestershire on the night of Sunday January 8 1989.
Many of the people killed were from Northern Ireland.
Lesley Pendleton, Kegworth Parish Council clerk, laid a wreath of pretty pink, white and red flowers at the village's memorial site set up for the victims.
She paid tribute to the victims and their families - many of whom lost more than one loved one.
She said: "At the time the aircraft came down a lot of people from the village went to help, a lot of the people stayed with people who were injured and went with them to hospital and have stayed friends with them ever since.
"To those people, obviously, it is a big memorial for them. And also the emergency services people were going into the plane and rescuing people and, obviously, seeing the most horrific, and you don't actually ever get over that.
"And the fact that an aircraft came down so close to the village, a lot of people think about what could have happened two to three seconds earlier.
"I think we were extremely lucky, and people who obviously lost their lives and were injured were very unlucky."
The plane, with 126 people on board, had taken off from Heathrow airport just before 8am on that fateful Sunday night 25 years ago.
As a pork salad evening meal was being served to the 118 passengers, 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 just failed.
Instead, with the runway at East Midlands only a few hundred yards away, the plane, now on fire and with blazing debris dropping from it, came down on the M1 embankment.
Almost miraculously, no one on the ground was injured and, equally amazingly, with the plane in bits, some of the passengers were able to walk away uninjured.
Most of the deaths occurred at the front of the plane, but 79 people, including the two pilots, survived.
Jeff Gill, a photographer living nearby who was the first on the scene, heard a loud noise and ran into his garden with his son to see a plane flying very low with sparks erupting from the engine.
He said: "It really looked pretty unstable. We just realised he was going to hit.
"We saw him hit and then a big crash, a big orange flash, and after that we realised something really bad had happened."
Mr Gill ran down to help victims of the crash scene and saw lumps of debris from the plane littered across the motorway below.
"I ran down to the plane because people were obviously trying to get out, and tried to help", he said.
He managed to help one victim who was fleeing part of the plane, but "all the people in the bit that lay up the bank had gone forward and tipped and we couldn't get anybody out of there".
Around 30 villagers rushed to the wreckage where they battled to rescue people and help survivors and helped the emergency services when they arrived, he said.
"I think the village in general, everybody remembers it," he said.
"Certainly the people what got involved, and there were a lot of villagers up there. A friend of ours, I remember I filmed her holding drips up for people who had got out.
"There were probably 20 or 30 villagers who had got there before the ambulance and fire brigade
"A lot of villagers had very close experience of it."
Three sisters in a family group of five flying to Co Monaghan for their father's funeral were among the dead. Their deaths had "devastated" their community, said their local priest.
A 13-year-old boy from Lisburn, Co Antrim, arrived back home from a skiing trip to discover his mother and two brothers had died. A company from Portadown, Co Armagh, lost five employees.
AA patrolmen arriving at 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 told of the eerie silence after the crash; others vowed never to fly again. Some were drenched in foam used to douse the flames.
At Derbyshire Royal Infirmary a major accident plan 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".
Prayers at St Andrew's were said today by the rector, the Rev Gill Turner-Callis.