Air disaster remembered 30 years on

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Media captionArchive footage shows disaster aftermath

Survivors and the families of those killed in one of the worst British air disasters have gathered for a service to remember the 47 people killed.

A Boeing 737, carrying 126 people, crashed onto the M1 in Leicestershire on 8 January 1989.

Witnesses described the “devastation” as the plane “bounced” over the carriageway and smashed into the embankment.

A 30th anniversary memorial service is being held at a church in Kegworth.

British Midland flight 92 had been diverted to East Midlands Airport after leaving Heathrow for Belfast when one of the plane’s engines caught fire.

Image caption The pilots shut down the wrong engine and the plane crashed on the M1 in Leicestershire

The pilots then mistakenly switched off the wrong engine on the way to the airport.

Witnesses said the plane “bounced” over the motorway, hit the central reservation and crashed into the embankment, smashing into pieces.

About 150 people are at the service at St Andrew’s Church in the village, where floral tributes have been laid outside.

Members of the emergency services, who were first at the scene when the aircraft crashed, are also attending.

Image caption Survivors and the families of the Kegworth air disaster arrive for the memorial service
Image caption Dozens of people are at the service at St Andrew’s Church

Among them is Bob Salter, a former duty sergeant, who was patrolling the M1 when the tragedy unfolded.

Recalling the crash, he said: “[The plane] was on fire when it bounced over the embankment on one side, hit the central reservation, took out a lamp post, then struck the central reservation and ended up on the other embankment where it broke up.”

Mr Salter and two other officers helped people out of the wreckage.

Image caption Bouquets of flowers have been left outside the church

He also discovered Captain Kevin Hunt unconscious and his co-pilot David McClelland who was also badly injured – both survived.

“There was silence apart from the aircraft, which was still settling into the embankment with some creaking of metal work,” he said.

He praised the emergency services and members of the public who helped at the scene.

‘It will live with me forever’

By Chris Heard, BBC News

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Media captionNews of the plane crash was broken on BBC Two by Michael Buerk

I was sitting at home in my flat in Leicester on the night of Sunday 8 January, 1989, when I took a phone call from my newsdesk.

Reports were still vague, but a plane had come down on the M1, some distance short of East Midlands Airport.

I was a 23-year-old reporter recently recruited to the Leicester Mercury, at the time still one of the country’s biggest-selling evening papers.

My brief was to head to Nottingham’s Queens Medical Centre where survivors were being taken with various trauma injuries. Other passengers arrived in body bags.

I filed copy through the night to the office via a brick-sized mobile phone charged on my car’s battery – how sophisticated it seemed to not have to run off in search of a telephone box, or call in on residents and ask to use their landlines.

Some of my more senior Mercury colleagues had been despatched to the scene.

A genial news editor and my late friend, Jim McPheator, lived not far from Kegworth and was the first journalist there, beating all of the national press.

Jim was a proper hack of the old school, but his first instinct was to tend to the wounded and distressed. He became a legend for helping to pull the injured from the wreckage.

As the sun came up the following morning I joined them at the scene and we sent our eyewitness interviews and updates back to the banks of copytakers sitting alongside the newsdesk in the Charles Street office.

During my time at the paper I worked on some big stories – Hillsborough, an IRA bomb attack, even the fall of the Berlin Wall. But the sight of that wreckage on the M1 embankment at first-light was something that will live with me forever.

Image caption Barry Bingham said he and his lifeboat colleagues climbed up the wreckage to help with the rescue

A lifeboat crew, from Withernsea, Yorkshire, were travelling back from a training exercise when they saw the plane coming down.

Barry Bingham, who with his colleagues helped with the rescue, told the BBC: “A lot of sparks came out from the engines and that was the point where one of them blew up.

“The trees had been chopped down, the lights in the central reservation. It had taken everything out.

“The wreckage was in three parts. There were flames coming up from the engine.

‘Steward fell out’

“The lifeboat training kicked in, something’s got to be done, let’s get on with it.

“I noticed the wing door was open. I started to climb up.

“The only person we did see was a chap who was wandering around the motorway in a uniform. It was only later I realised it was a steward out of the aeroplane, he fell out the back.

“The fact that we climbed up that wreckage and there were gallons of aviation fuel like a river, flowing down the embankment, didn’t dawn on us.”

Image caption Clive Sparling said “it was hard to take in” when he arrived at the scene of the crash

Clive Sparling was a 20-year-old Leicestershire police constable when he was deployed to the scene of the crash.

“I saw first hand the absolute devastation. It was hard to take in. A plane broken in two on the edge of the M1,” he said.

Mr Sparling, who is a civilian resource planner with the force, said he worked for 26 hours straight assisting other emergency service staff.

Most of the people on board were from Northern Ireland and some are still suffering from the injuries they sustained in the crash.

The service, which has been organised by Kegworth Parish Council, will precede a walk to Kegworth Cemetery where wreaths will be laid.

Timeline – British Midland Flight 92

  • British Midland Flight 92 crashed into the M1 about 45 minutes after taking off from Heathrow
  • It was travelling at about 130mph (209kmph), when it hit a field on the southbound side of the motorway before plunging through trees and smashing into the embankment on the opposite carriageway
  • The front section of the plane – carrying about 15 people – broke away from the main body on impact
  • Inside, all but one overhead locker sprang open and luggage flew through the air, causing head injuries to almost every passenger, and killing some of them
  • Chairs shot forward, crushing people between the seats and causing horrendous leg wounds
  • The plane had come down yards from the village of Kegworth, just a few hundred feet short of the runway at East Midlands Airport
  • Moments earlier, two motorists had seen sparks flying from the jet as it descended towards them. Realising it was about to crash, they managed to slow traffic using their hazard-warning lights

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Read more: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leicestershire-46782519

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