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Poignant day for survivors as Kegworth air disaster remembered 30 years on

Survivor Dessie Clarke, with his daughter Ashley
Survivor Dessie Clarke, with his daughter Ashley
Survivor Leslie Bloomer
The public place flowers at a memorial
A jet passes over the scene of the crash
The scene of the crash
Survivor Dessie Clarke with his daughter Ashley

By Josh Payne

Survivors and families of some of the 47 people killed in the Kegworth air disaster attended a church service and wreath-laying ceremony yesterday to mark 30 years since the tragedy.

Wreaths were laid by families, emergency services, councils and others at a memorial site in the Leicestershire village.

Before the wreath-laying, the names of those who died were read out during a 45-minute church service, followed by a minute's silence.

Around 300 people attended the service, which was led by Reverend Lauretta Wilson, during which hymns were sung, prayers were read and candles were lit.

Some of those who had flown from Northern Ireland to attend the commemorations wiped away tears as people paid their respects.

Survivor Leslie Bloomer

Opening the commemorations, Rev Wilson said: "Kegworth has never forgotten that fateful night on January 8, 1989.

"Whatever our motivations, it is good to have the opportunity to remember and honour those who lost their lives.

"The dreadful event shook all of our communities."

The plane with 126 people on board had taken off from Heathrow just before 8pm. Loud bangs were heard coming from the left-hand engine as an evening meal was being served to the 118 passengers.

But Captain Kevin Hunt and his co-pilot David McClelland shut down the correctly-working right-hand engine and efforts to make an emergency landing at East Midlands Airport failed.

Instead, the plane, which was on fire and had blazing debris dropping from it, came down on the M1 embankment with the runway at East Midlands Airport only a few hundred yards away.

A jet passes over the scene of the crash

Despite the crash, nobody on the ground was injured and some of the passengers were able to walk away unscathed.

Most of the deaths occurred at the front of the plane and 79 people, including the two pilots, survived.

Speaking after the ceremony, survivor Leslie Bloomer from Killylea in Co Armagh said he did not know whether he was alive or dead in the moments following the crash.

The 57-year-old said he was not even supposed to be on the British Midland Boeing 737 travelling to Belfast.

Mr Bloomer had visited a boat show in London with two friends, with one suggesting they get an earlier flight home after arriving at the airport three hours early.

Before travelling to the memorial service, Mr Bloomer said he was shaking before his flight took off, and admitted an aversion air travel still remained.

He said: "I know this morning, when I got on the plane in Belfast, and when it got on to the runway - if they'd have opened the door and said: 'Do you want to get out?', I'd have got out.

"I was sitting there just shaking.

Survivor Dessie Clarke with his daughter Ashley

"Flying is still tough for me but I'm very glad to come here.

"I've met people that I haven't seen for 20 odd years. To meet nurses, ambulance crews, the fire service, it's brilliant. And to see the way people here put this on and how it impacted this village."

Speaking of the events leading up to the flight, Mr Bloomer said: "We shouldn't even have been on that plane, we were booked on the 9.20pm plane but my friend said to me: 'We're going to be here for another three hours, I wonder if we could get an earlier flight home?'

"There was room on the 7.20pm, so we jumped on it.

"Another thing, when I got on the plane this morning I was sitting on the same row of seats as I was sitting on that night.

"It's strange the way you think of things like that."

Reflecting on the incident itself, Mr Bloomer said: "The left-hand engine kept putting out small sparks, small flames. It didn't feel good.

"I actually had a flashback at the weekend of the last 10 seconds or so before it hit the ground and I could imagine the pilot sitting there trying to steer it and then the thud on the ground.

"When the plane stopped moving I was sitting there and, for a second or two, I wasn't sure whether I was dead or alive actually. I saw my friend to the right, he was unconscious, and my other friend wasn't in good shape either. I was trapped with my legs under the seat."

Describing how he felt during the church service, Mr Bloomer said: "It was very emotional when they started to read the names. The first and second names read out, I knew those people from back home.

"I didn't know they were on the plane, I hadn't seen them at the departure lounge at Heathrow, I hadn't seen them on the plane.

"I remember when I found out they were killed on the plane, and when they were read out today, I could barely hold the tears back.

"Coming up here for this service I started to think about the plane crash a lot, and if I go on holidays, once I get on to the plane, taking off gets me and landing gets me."

Belfast Telegraph


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