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Night 23 killed on a Welsh hillside

Aer Lingus plane, the St Kevin, crashed during a gale 60 years ago with the loss of all on board, writes Ray Cleere

ON a lonely hillside in Snowdonia, Wales, a simple stone commemorates the victims of Ireland's first air disaster, the crash of the Aer Lingus plane, the St Kevin.

Tragically the only item to survive intact was a child's doll, belonging to a four-year-old passenger.

Sixty years ago, shortly after 7pm on Thursday night January 10, 1952, in a blinding rainstorm the Dakota aircraft crashed into Moel Siabod, a mountain 2,860ft high and burned out with the loss of all 20 passengers, and a crew of three.

It was Aer Lingus's first fatal crash in 15 years of service.

When the first rescue party had struggled 1,000ft up the steep slope of the mountain they found the smouldering debris embedded in the earth. Most of the passengers had been buried in the bog by the impact.

The plane was flying en route from London Northolt to Dublin leaving at 5.25pm and was due to land at Collinstown at 8.10pm. The last message received was a report to the Nevin Radio Station, south of Anglesey which said that the 'St Kevin' was flying normally.

The crash was believed to have occurred within the next half-hour during a gale. The first news of the disaster came from two people who telephoned Caernarvon police at 7.10pm and said that they had heard the sound of an aircraft overhead, then the sound of a crash and saw a big glow in the sky near the mountains. Police, and scores of RAF men and soldiers were involved in the tortuous rescue mission in torrential rain.

Among them were two Irishmen -- Senior Aircraftsman Willie Redmond of Cabra, Dublin and Senior Aircraftsman Christopher McCrann, of Sligo, who were both in the RAF.

By midnight about 100 helpers were directed to the desolate mountain top and they worked by torch light to extricate the bodies from the wreckage and the bog.

The plane was piloted by Captain JR Keohane, from Whitehall, Dublin, with WA Newman, from Dundrum, also Dublin, as First Officer and Deirdre Sutton as air hostess.

Aged 23, Miss Sutton had worked for Aer Lingus for two years and lived in Ranelagh, Dublin, where her family ran a grocery business.

Also among the victims were Captain Michael Laker, aged 29, an Aer Lingus pilot, his wife and daughter, Melody, 4, who were returning from London to their home in Ballymun, Dublin.

A short distance from the wreckage police found a child's shoe and beside it a doll belonging to Melody. The doll was the only item which remained intact after the crash.

The cause of the crash was never established, although it was believed that atrocious weather conditions may have led to mechanical failure.

The remaining crash victims were: William M Good, 36, of Mount Henry, Torca Hill, Dalkey, Co Dublin, who was managing director of Messrs Lincoln and Nolan Ltd, Motor Engineers.

Mr and Mrs Neville Aston, of Ramleh Villas, Milltown, Co Dublin, who were a prominent and popular young couple at Milltown Golf Club.

Dr James Gaffney 38, of Tolka Lodge, Finglas, Co Dublin, who was a well- known Dublin pathologist.

Lily Wenman, 16, who was a German girl going to live with her grandmother Elizabeth Wenman at Mountjoy Street, Dublin.

Arthur Whiteside, 44, of Thwaite, Castle Park, Rathfarnham, Dublin, who was a partner in a firm of chartered accountants.

Henry Richardson, 39, of The Close, Mount Merrion, Co Dublin, who was area manager for Messrs Cavendish Furniture Company.

ED Stone, 22, who was a South African medical student at the Royal College of Surgeons. Gerald Towney Fitzgerald 42, of Clonbeg, Orwell Road, Rathgar, who was an ex-army officer and a Dublin businessman.

Thomas J Carroll, 48, originally from Cork and living in Long Island, New York, who was visiting his mother.

John Francis Stockpool, 33, Kildorrery, Co Cork, who was a taxi driver, farmer and a well-known greyhound breeder. Joan Kiely, 24, of Merton Road, Rathmines, Dublin who was a dietician at St Bartholomew's Hospital in London.

Phyllis Noakes, 32, who was an English civil servant.

John Benson, 24, a music student at the Royal Irish Academy, who lived at Upper Drumcondra Road in Dublin.

William Arthur Lynch, 31, who was an engineer from New York. Dr Daniel J O'Donovan, 56, a retired doctor who lived at Kimmage Road, Terenure, Dublin.

Evelyn Belton, 26, of Summerhill Parade, Dublin, who was a sister of publican Luke Belton and first cousin of Alderman J Belton, TD, a former Lord Mayor of Dublin.

Sunday Independent