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