A year ago young Derry man Aaron Toland died in a plane crash in Thailand. His family tells Simon Creer that there are still questions to be answered about the tragedy.
A young Londonderry man with his future ahead of him, Aaron Toland (22) was three days into his trip across the globe. On a brief stop over in Thailand before going on to Australia, Aaron decided to fly from Bangkok to Phuket to take in the beaches. His plane, flight OG 269, attempted to land as tropical wind and rain lashed the airport.
The McDonnell-Douglas 82 craft, operated by Thailand's One-two-go budget airline, skidded off the runway and burst into flames, killing Aaron and 88 other passengers.
Now, one year on, his aunt, Patricia Logue, talks of the tragic loss experienced by the family and the questions that still go unanswered. She says:
"It was awful and it still is. The Tolands’ lives will never be the same. Aaron went away that Thursday, he had worked so hard for the trip and then had his life cut short like that. It is a tragedy and changes people's lives forever.
“He was taking a year out before looking for a job. He had saved hard while working in a part-time job and studying. The trip was something really special for him, something he really wanted to do. He had been looking forward to it for a long time.
“Like any family, we were worried before he went away. We knew he was going for a year to a strange place and like anyone we were anxious but this was our worst nightmare come true.
“I remember the morning very well when his mother, Anne-Marie, phoned to say there was a plane crash. She had heard about it on the news.
“Everybody was saying, don't be silly he's not due to be on that flight, but she had a gut feeling and wanted reassurance. When she told me I got her all the emergency contact numbers.
“She said when she phoned and they told her he was on the plane it was terrible. She just kept hearing the words, ‘Aaron Toland was on the plane’ over and over again.
“Aaron had only been away for three days. He had left us on the Thursday and it happened on Sunday, September 16. He was supposed to be staying in Bangkok for a week but wasn't keen on it so wanted to go island-hopping along the coast.
“To make matters worse it was a gap of nearly three days before we knew Aaron was a victim. It was awful when we found out and even more so with him being so far away. It just makes everything harder.
“We had to arrange to get the family out there. Raymond McCartney MLA (Sinn Fein) travelled out with Aaron's dad.
“It was a great help knowing there was someone out with him to do all the liaising for the family who wasn't going through the mental torment going on in the family's heads. The reasons for the crash are still unclear. There is an online petition to sign and read which tells you everything that has happened since the crash and we hope that there will be an open enquiry. The airlines are pointing at pilot error but there are other very pressing questions that need to be answered.
There have been statements from pilots who say they are working over their permitted flying time. They say there may have been wind sheer on the runway and that the locaters on the ground were not working properly and were giving the pilots the wrong information.
“We really hope that this petition will put pressure on the Thai government to have an open enquiry into why this happened and the running of the airline to ensure that all the things that should be done are being done and are being kept to. Thailand is a tourist destination with outdated planes using unsafe practices. If anything good comes out of this it will be to ensure flying safety for other tourists.
“There seems to be low regard for health and safety out there and it is a destination for a lot of young people. It will take some time and the family will do everything they can to ensure passenger safety.
“Although the planes are the same model I see no connection with the recent Madrid crash but maybe someone should look at these planes and whether they should still be flying.
“Of course, you want all companies to ensure they are flying safely with acceptable planes and levels of safety."
To sign the petition and find out more about the crash visit www.investigateudom.com