Keg­worth air crash 30 years on... ‘It was like a film set’ Wit­nesses re­call hor­ror of Mid­land plane dis­as­ter on M1

Birmingham Post - - NEWS - Mike Lock­ley Fea­tures Staff

IT WAS just be­fore 8.30pm on Sun­day Jan­uary 8, 1989, when the plane hit the ground. British Mid­land Air­ways flight BD92, trav­el­ling from Lon­don Heathrow to Belfast, had been di­verted to East Mid­lands Air­port, close to Cas­tle Don­ing­ton, af­ter a blade in one of its en­gines had frac­tured.

But when the se­cond en­gine stopped work­ing, the plane crash­landed just a few hun­dred yards from the run­way, hit­ting the em­bank­ment of the M1.

Hor­ri­fied res­i­dents in the vil­lage of Keg­worth saw the Boe­ing 737 burst into flames. If it had come down just sec­onds ear­lier it would have wiped out homes. The pi­lot of BD92 was quickly hailed a hero for avoid­ing the vil­lage.

Ex­perts said the chances of both en­gines fail­ing were one hun­dred mil­lion to one.

But Cap­tain Kevin Hunt, from As­ton-upon-Trent, Der­byshire, and First Of­fi­cer David McClel­land, from Don­aghadee, County Down, were crit­i­cised in the sub­se­quent in­ves­ti­ga­tion when it emerged they had turned off the work­ing en­gine, and were later dis­missed by the air­line.

The pi­lots, how­ever, blamed the in­di­ca­tions from the en­gine in­stru­ments and claimed they were made scape­goats af­ter the crash, which hap­pened just 18 days af­ter the Locker­bie bomb­ing.

David Jones, then chair­man of Keg­worth Par­ish Coun­cil, was one of many lo­cals who helped the in­jured.

“My first re­ac­tion was shock and awe,” he re­calls. “I just re­mem­ber parts of the plane on the mo­tor­way and the em­bank­ments.

“It was like a film set and too much to take in.

“We saw they were strug­gling to get the in­jured on stretch­ers over a fence, so three or four of us ripped this big fence out of the ground com­pletely.

“We cre­ated a line of peo­ple so we could pass the stretch­ers away from the de­bris.

“I also asked a fire­man if I could go on board and help get some of the in­jured out. I saw a lot of in­jured and dead peo­ple. I’d never seen a dead per­son be­fore.

“I couldn’t drive past the site for quite a while af­ter­wards. It was about three months later that I fi­nally went back there and cried.

“It still comes back to me when I go past the site, and there’s not many days when you don’t think about it. The one good thing that came out of it is that a lot of friends were made. Some peo­ple from the vil­lage stayed with the in­jured and that led to friend­ships that re­main now.”

Les­ley Pendle­ton, the par­ish clerk for Keg­worth for more than three decades, was out driv­ing when she saw the plume of smoke from the crash min­utes af­ter it had hap­pened. She im­me­di­ately moved to get the vil­lage’s emer­gency ac­tion plan into place, although in the end it wasn’t needed.

“The peo­ple of Keg­worth were fan­tas­tic,” she says. “They were quickly on the scene help­ing peo­ple.

“Some stayed with the in­jured un­til rel­a­tives were able to get there.” When asked if the dis­as­ter changed the vil­lage, Les­ley says: “I don’t think it did. The vil­lage was al­ready very com­mu­nity-minded any­way and I would have been sur­prised if peo­ple had not have helped. “The ca­ma­raderie was good and many peo­ple helped out, which is what you ex­pect from a vil­lage like ours.” The first re­porter on the scene that night was Ian Woods. Now a se­nior cor­re­spon­dent for Sky News, Mr Woods started out on lo­cal ra­dio in the West Mid­lands and was work­ing for BBC Not­ting­ham at the time of the crash. He had been work­ing an un­event­ful Sun­day even­ing shift when the call came through. Mr Woods ar­rived within 30 min­utes of the plane com­ing down to a scene so un­be­liev­able he didn’t recog­nise the stretch of mo­tor­way he’d trav­elled along so many times be­fore. He re­calls: “When I ar­rived there were lots of am­bu­lance crews work­ing to get the sur­vivors out. I re­mem­ber the most ex­traordi- nary scene. The plane had split into three pieces and was strad­dling the em­bank­ment.”

In a time be­fore 24-hour news, Ian had to im­pro­vise, us­ing a huge mo­bile phone (be­fore the bat­tery ran out an hour later) to record news­flashes, de­scrib­ing the scene.

“I re­mem­ber stretch­ers com­ing down a 30-foot-high em­bank­ment,” he says, “and I was con­cen­trat­ing so hard on de­scrib­ing the scene that I hadn’t re­alised I had walked right into the area where they were lay­ing bod­ies out, cov­ered with sheets.

“I felt ter­ri­ble that I had been so obliv­i­ous. That’s my pre­vail­ing mem­ory of the night.”

Ac­tiv­ity was cen­tred on the tail sec­tion of the plane and emer­gency teams, with the help of mem­bers of the pub­lic, dug a flight of steps into the muddy em­bank­ment to help bring the sur­vivors down.

Mr Woods says: “All the pas­sen­gers be­ing brought out of the wreck­age seemed to be alive. But we soon re­alised the res­cue work­ers were free­ing the liv­ing be­fore the dead.

“A priest was giv­ing up­dates and I re­mem­ber the death toll be­ing three, then ten, then 16, 22 – ev­ery hour bring­ing a new fig­ure.”

Of the 126 peo­ple aboard the plane, 47 died and 74, in­clud­ing seven mem­bers of the flight crew, sus­tained se­ri­ous in­juries.

Mr Woods man­aged to source some video footage – a rare and valu­able find at a time be­fore cam­era phones – from a lo­cal man and man­aged to get it on air within an hour.

He re­mem­bers: “Dozens of other me­dia even­tu­ally ar­rived and we were moved into one po­si­tion on the op­po­site em­bank­ment where we stood to­gether like an au­di­ence watch­ing a ghastly per­for­mance on a stage.”

Mr Woods, who was just 24 at the time of the crash, car­ried a sense of guilt for years af­ter­wards.

That night his re­ports, the first from the scene, in­ter­rupted the BBC pro­gramme See For Your­self, a Points Of View- style broad­cast that was watched by many Beeb big­wigs.

“I got a high pro­file out of it and for a long time af­ter the crash I felt quite guilty about that,” he says.

“All the BBC man­agers saw these re­ports and within a few weeks I was of­fered shifts at TV Cen­tral in Lon­don. That was the big break in my ca­reer. For sev­eral years af­ter­wards I felt bad that my break­through came be­cause 47 peo­ple had died at

Keg­worth.”

I hadn’t re­alised I had walked right into the area where they were lay­ing bod­ies out, cov­ered with sheets Ian Woods

>47 peo­ple died and an­other 74 sus­tained se­ri­ous in­juries in the Keg­worth air dis­as­ter

> Res­cue ser­vices pulling peo­ple from the wreck­age

> Ian Woods

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