Wednesday 18 September 2019

Darkest Day of 'Beaujolais crash' recalled 30 years later

Remains of the light aircraft which came down near Eastbourne, England. Photo: PA
Remains of the light aircraft which came down near Eastbourne, England. Photo: PA
Niall Hanley
Kevin Marron
John Feeney
Tony Hennigan
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

IT made headlines around the world and today, 30 years on, the families of the nine men who died in the Beaujolais crash of November 1984 will each gather privately to remember the loved ones they lost.

Renowned journalists Evening Herald editor Niall Hanley; Evening Herald columnist John Feeney; Irish Independent columnist Tony Heneghan; and Kevin Marron, columnist with The Sunday World, lost their lives in the crash on November 13, 1984.

Businessmen Cormac Cassidy, wine merchant with Cassidy Wines; Pat Gibbons, owner of the Sands hotel, Francois Schelbaum, manager of the Sands; and restaurateur Arrigo Chichi were also killed, alongside pilot Jack Walsh.

Amongst the commemorative events will be a mass for Niall Hanley at St Laurence's Church in Kilmacud, Dublin, while John Feeney's family will attend mass in the church near Enniskerry where John is buried, followed by a small family get-together.

The tragic group had been taking part in an annual jaunt to bring back the first Beaujolais Nouveau wine from France when their light plane crashed during a rainstorm, hitting a hill near Eastbourne on the English south coast.

A subsequent investigation revealed that the plane had begun to break up mid-air, with parts of the craft found four miles away from the crash site, scattered across the Sussex Downs.

It was not carrying a black box recorder and was last heard of by flight controllers flying at 25,000 feet and heading for France in poor visibility caused by heavy rain.

The cause of the crash has never been determined - but three years afterwards, the official report on the crash of that Gulfstream Rockwell Turbo Commander E1-BGL suggested that a festive atmosphere on board may have distracted the pilot and that "the passenger in the co-pilot seat may have accidentally switched off the auto pilot".

However the families of the victims themselves believe the cause of the crash was more likely to have been caused by a structural defect, perhaps in the engine, particularly in light of the fact that 13 of those particular planes had already crashed in America.

The stark headline of the Irish Independent the next day told the tale of shock and grief that swept through, not alone the community of journalists and restaurateurs but the nation at large as they mourned the loss. It simply read: "Our Darkest Day".

Irish Independent

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