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Larne skipper William Hood lost with nine shipmates in 1970 disaster remembered


William and Margaret Hood

William and Margaret Hood

The Lairdsfield

The Lairdsfield

William and Margaret with Annette and Kim the dog

William and Margaret with Annette and Kim the dog

William and Margaret Hood

The granddaughter of a local seaman who perished in a shipping disaster has spoken of the tragedy ahead of the 50th anniversary of the sinking next month.

Captain William Hood, originally from Larne, Co Antrim, died after cargo ship the Lairdsfield sank in the North Sea off the Co Durham coast on February 6, 1970.

The ship had departed from Middlesbrough Wharf on its way to Cork when it capsized in Tees Bay with the loss of all 10 crew members.

Improperly loaded cargo was blamed for the sinking.

It was later reported by local newspaper the Evening Gazette that the Lairdsfield had tried to set sail three times, but twice had to turn back - once because a crew member broke a leg onboard, then because of engine trouble.

The headline, which was printed the day after the sinking, highlighted the apparent ill-fated 'omens' and read 'The Ship That Didn't Want To Go To Sea'.

Tragically, Captain Hood, born in 1906, was only on the doomed vessel because he offered to stand in for the ship's second officer, who had taken sick.

The naval officer - who at the time had been living in north Belfast - was visiting his daughter in England when he decided to return to Ireland by "getting a lift" aboard the vessel. Annette Woolfson (59), who grew up here but now lives in Northumberland, said she only recently learned her grandfather had been due to retire the following month.

"He was from a seafaring family," she told the Belfast Telegraph.

"His family, the Hoods, had ran a ferry between Islandmagee and Larne.

"My granda spent most of his life at sea. During the [Second World] War he was away quite a lot."

At the time of the disaster Captain Wood had been living off the Antrim Road with his wife Margaret, Annette's grandmother. "I've heard different versions of this over the years, but my grandmother would tune into the shipping radio and know when my granda's ship would be coming up the lough and get the frying pan on for him," revealed Annette.

She was about to celebrate turning 10 years old at her family's home in Portadown when she heard the devastating news that her grandfather had perished at sea.

"It was just before my 10th birthday.

"I was watching a TV programme when the 10 o'clock news came on with news of the sinking. I remember thinking 'that's terrible' because of my granda.

"I had no idea that he had been onboard."

She learned the tragic news from her mother Sadie.

Annette recalled that her devastated mother collapsed against a door frame, saying: "My daddy's boat's gone down."

Her grandfather's body was never recovered.

The ship's chief officer Kenneth Campbell, who was from Belfast, also died in the disaster.

A memorial service for all of the crew members will be held in the English coastal town of Redcar on February 6. It will be attended by members of the Royal British Legion and the Merchant Navy Association among others.

Annette said the anniversary comes after her mother recently passed away.

"My poor mother would be so proud that her father's story is at last being told," she added.

Belfast Telegraph