Agony of sur­vivor of Gatwick’s worst ever air crash ... fifty years on

‘It’s hit me harder re­cently’ says woman who was buried un­der rub­ble when a jet de­mol­ished her par­ents’ house

West Sussex Gazette - - LETTERS TO THE EDITOR - Sarah Page ws.let­[email protected]­me­ Tel 01403 751214 Twit­ter: @WSG_Sarah

It wasn’t un­til Bev­erly Jones was five years old that she dis­cov­ered the peo­ple she had al­ways thought were her mum and dad were re­ally her grand­par­ents.

It was the day she also found out that her par­ents had been killed in the worst ever plane crash at Gatwick Air­port.

Ann and Wil­liam Jones died when a pas­sen­ger jet crashed onto their home - com­pletely oblit­er­at­ing the build­ing be­fore burst­ing into a fire­ball, killing an­other 48 peo­ple on board the air­craft. The tragedy un­folded as the plane ap­proached Gatwick in thick fog.

Mirac­u­lously, Ann and Wil­liam’s 18-month-old baby daugh­ter Bev­erly sur­vived when two ends of her cot col­lapsed and shielded her from the rub­ble of the de­mol­ished house. She was res­cued by two po­lice of­fi­cers.

Un­til the age of five Bev­erly knew noth­ing of the tragedy but now - 50 years on - she says: “Now I’m feel­ing it.”

Now her­self a mother of two grown up daugh­ters, Bev­erly who works for Hor­sham District Coun­cil - says it is only now that it is hit­ting her harder. She said of her pain: “It didn’t re­ally com­pute un­til my youngest was born and I re­alised she would never know her grand­par­ents.”

She also re­vealed how she al­ways ends up in tears ev­ery time she her­self boards an air­craft. “I don’t re­ally know why.”

The dev­as­tat­ing crash which changed her life hap­pened be­tween Craw­ley and Hor­ley on Sun­day Jan­uary 5 1969.

An er­ror by the pi­lot of the air­craft, an Ari­ana Afghan Air­lines jet, was later blamed for the crash which claimed 50 lives.

Three air­craft crew mem­bers, in­clud­ing the pi­lot, and four pas­sen­gers also sur­vived, along with Bev­erly.

Bev­erly’s grand­par­ents, who brought her up at their home in Ifield Road, West Green, Craw­ley, gen­tly re­vealed to her what hap­pened af­ter Bev­erly was teased at school for hav­ing ‘old par­ents.’

And she re­vealed this week that her grand­par­ents - Het­tie and Harry Sim­monds - had very nearly also died on that fate­ful day.

“They had been babysit­ting me and were go­ing to stay the night be­cause it was re­ally foggy, but then de­cided to go home,” said Bev­erly.

They had been home for less than an hour when a po­lice­man knocked on the door and told them the aw­ful news of what had hap­pened.

“My grand­par­ents said: ‘What about the baby?’ The po­lice said ‘what baby?’ and only then re­alised that I was in the house.”

A fran­tic search be­gan for the tot and she was fi­nally saved when PC Keith Sim­monds heard her cry­ing and pulled her from the rub­ble of her par­ents’ de­mol­ished house.

“It took them about 12 hours to dig me out,” said Bev­erly who had a poignant re­union with PC Sim­monds on her 21st birth­day. And she is now set to meet up with the former po­lice of­fi­cer again on Sat­ur­day in Devon where he now lives - to mark the 50th an­niver­sary of the tragedy.

“It will only be the sec­ond time we have met since it all hap­pened. I don’t know what I will say,” said Bev­erly.

PC Sim­monds, who re­ceived the Queen’s Com­men­da­tion for Brave Con­duct for his ac­tions that night, re­mem­bered in a state­ment is­sued by Sur­rey Po­lice on the 50th an­niver­sary: “I could see that there was a lot of rub­ble that the tail was sit­ting on and part of the tail en­gine was burn­ing very brightly.

“As I cau­tiously ap­proached I saw a move­ment which on closer in­spec­tion was a baby’s arm. She was in a cot and two ends of the cot had col­lapsed in­wards, form­ing a roof over her.

“I care­fully lifted her out and ran back with her to the lane where the first am­bu­lance had just ar­rived.”

Bev­erly her­self has no rec­ol­lec­tion of what hap­pened that night, but she has a poignant re­minder of the home she once shared with her par­ents. Her grand­mother dug up some snow­drops from what was once the fam­ily gar­den and Bev­erly now has them in her own gar­den in Craw­ley.

And ev­ery year Bev­erly al­ways marks the an­niver­sary of the tragedy on Jan­uary 5. “I al­ways stay up to 1.37am which is when the plane hit,” she said. This year she hap­pened to be on hol­i­day in In­dia with a friend, but still checked UK time to en­sure she marked the event.

Now Bev­erly, who has re­ceived no com­pen­sa­tion from the dis­as­ter, is hop­ing that a per­ma­nent me­mo­rial to her par­ents could be erected in a pub­lic place.

“Re­ally, I’d like it to be in the Me­mo­rial Gar­dens in Craw­ley, or per­haps a plaque on a wall where my fa­ther’s busi­ness was in Craw­ley. I’d hate to have it in a place with planes fly­ing over it all the time.”

She also has her own per­ma­nent per­sonal re­minder of the agony she has gone through she has the names of her par­ents and her now-late grand­par­ents tat­tooed on her arms.

She also has a small plaque at Craw­ley’s Sur­rey and Sus­sex Cre­ma­to­rium which she of­ten vis­its “but I would re­ally like a pub­lic me­mo­rial,” she adds.

It didn’t re­ally com­pute un­til my youngest was born and I re­alised she would never know her grand­par­ents

Bev­erly Jones mirac­u­lously sur­vived when a plane crashed onto her par­ents’ house when she was a baby

Top & right: Af­ter­math of the crash which claimed the lives of 50 peo­ple in Gatwick’s worst dis­as­ter (pho­tos cour­tesy of Sur­rey Po­lice). Above: Bev­erly Jones with PC Keith Sim­monds who pulled her from the rub­ble of her par­ents’ de­mol­ished house

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