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Memories of disaster still vivid 25 years on

By Burton Mail  |  Posted: January 08, 2014

  • Photos from the scene of the Kegworth Air Disaster in 1989

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THE Kegworth plane crash 25 years ago will remain in many people’s minds for years to come. The disaster took place when the Boeing 737, en route from London to Belfast, lost both engines and crashed into an embankment on the M1 motorway while attempting an emergency landing at East Midlands Airport.

Of the 117 passengers 47 people died.

News outlets from across the region flocked to the scene, including Ian Croson, former deputy sports editor at the Mail, now chief sub-editor of the Derby Telegraph.

A 21-year-old reporter for a local weekly newspaper at the time, he recalls joining in the rescue efforts that night: “At about 9pm, the phone rang. It was a photographer friend who blurted out that a plane had crashed on the M1. He didn’t know any details but we both knew we had to get out there.

“We used the A453, which lies between the M1 and the runway, and parked at the foot of the embankment. Strangely, hardly anyone was around. There was no sense of panic.

“We split up in the hope of finding something. I didn’t see him again for hours.

“I climbed to the top of the embankment. It was hard going. Rain had made it muddy. I was not prepared for what happened next.

“You!” came a shout. “Come and help with this.”

“I did as I was told and, with three others, we each took hold of a corner of a blanket. There was a man inside and we were to carry him down the embankment. One of his legs was broken. Halfway down his shin it sickeningly turned back on itself.

“Slowly we shuffled our way back down the embankment. It was hard work and the man in the blanket was heavy. He was a youngish man, probably a few years older than me, but heavily built and looked at least 6ft. I wondered why there didn’t seem much blood from his wounds and then it dawned on me – he had died. We carried him to the foot of the embankment and carefully placed him down.

“Back at the top of the slope, a young woman was being brought out on a stretcher.

“She seemed quite young, too, probably in her mid to late 20s. She was alive but seriously injured and was barely conscious. I remember she had a gash running from where her forehead met her dark hair down to just above her nose. It was deep. That was not her only injury.

“Six of us were to carry the stretcher down the embankment. It was feared she had damaged her spine and we were told the slightest jolt could worsen her condition. Slipping on the wet grass was not an option. Slowly, carefully, with tiny steps, and with two medics at the front, we shuffled back down.

“It was perhaps 50ft to the bottom and a waiting ambulance but it felt like a mile. I left the doctors treating her and headed back up again.

“I still hadn’t seen the wrecked plane.

“Even with my limited experience I had already been to the scene of a plane crash. But not one like this. No one had died in that one and there were only three crew on board. This was different.

“The first part I saw of the 737 was the nose. I could see right into the cockpit where emergency workers were trying to free the pilot.

“The aircraft had broken into three and lay on its belly on the western embankment. There was a yawning gap between the front and middle sections. The tail section had broken away and pointed up into the night sky.

“One of the few screams I heard that night came from a passenger still in the tail section. It was a sound that has stayed with me.

“Some years afterwards, I saw a seating plan of where people on the plane had died. The first place I looked was in the tail section. I was relieved to discover he had survived.”

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