Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

Haass proposals: Leaders must not squander hopes, says Kegworth survivor

A survivor of the horrific Kegworth air disaster has sent a powerful open letter to the politicians who took part in the failed Haass talks, pleading with them to come to an agreement.

Alan Johnston – who was seriously injured in the British Midland crash in January 1989 – urged the Ulster Unionists, DUP, Sinn Fein, SDLP and Alliance "not to squander the hopes" raised by the initiative led by US diplomat Richard Haass.

The 87-year-old Strangford man, who sustained a broken pelvis in the crash, said a deal on parading, the past and the legacy of the Troubles would be the "very best Kegworth memorial".

Forty-seven people were killed and 74 injured when the Boeing 737 flight from Heathrow to Belfast crashed.

Mr Johnston was trapped for two hours and it was assumed he was dead until rescuers noticed a movement in one of his eyes.

He has been filmed meeting one of his rescuers for tonight's Real Lives Reunited show on BBC1.

Mr Johnston said that during his recovery from post-traumatic stress disorder, he became fixated with the idea of convening a world peace conference.

"I was obsessed with my plan and could scarcely think of anything else, unable to comprehend that it was not, for an instant, practicable," he said.

He said the Haass talks had reminded him of his post-crash thoughts and said he had been been moved to write to politicians after seeing stories about the discussions alongside articles about the 25th anniversary of Kegworth.

"So much has been achieved and yet those last wee bits are still to be cracked," he said.

"They truly are small when set against the prize to be won. The overwhelming majority of Northern Ireland people of all law-abiding complexions would find it hard to forgive any wreckers."

But he added: "You know what you still must do – and do graciously – just give that little bit more and recognise that there is a fundamentally decent fellow-participant in the talks whose methods you may have detested and decried in the past.

"My plea goes equally to all other political leaders who have even the least concern for the future of Northern Ireland."

Mr Johnston finished his letter by asking: "Is it too much to hope that in our lovely wee patch of land its inhabitants can even yet be held up as a shining beacon to all those entrenched in other seemingly endless and appaling struggles? That beacon is tantalisingly close. It must not slip from our grasp. Reach out. Be my other rescuers."

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