Homeopaths and homeopathic supporters Isabel Campbell, Dudley Wooton Everitt, Marjorie Golomb, (Sisters) Kawther Theresa Kandalla and Ludi Maylone Kandalla, Sergei William Kadleigh, Mary Stevenson, John Robertson Raeside, Elizabeth Somerville Stewart and Thomas Fergus Stewart also died in that fatal crash.
One hundred and eighteen people were killed last night in the worst air disaster in Britain. They died when a BEA Trident airliner ploughed into waste ground only a few yards from the Staines bypass on the outskirts of Heathrow Airport-London.
There were no survivors when the plane crashed, less than four minutes after taking off for Brussels. Its wheels had been retracted and the plane was climbing when it suddenly dropped, skimming over high-tension power lines and across the tops of cars before crashing on its underside.
The impact broke the plane’s spine, ripping off the tail section and sending it spinning through the air. The fuselage slewed across the muddy field and hit a line of trees on the edge of a reservoir.
The plane had hit an incredibly small space – a field no more than 100 yards wide. The way in which it crashed suggested that it might have lost virtually all power; it came almost straight down, missing houses on either side of the field.
A stall, from which the pilot would need a lot of height to recover even if it were not of the dangerous “deep” variety, would have the same effect….
Thirty four Britons were killed in the crash, including the crew. There were 29 passengers from the United States, 29 Belgians, 12 Irish, four South African, three Canadian, one Thai, two Jamaicans, one Latin American, one Indian, one French Afrique, and one Nigerian. There were between 25 and 30 women passengers, as well as two or three children.
The Department of Trade and Industry said the pilot’s last message to ground control came two minutes after take-off. It said “Up to 60? which the DTI said, “Is quite a normal message.” It means the pilot was climbing to a level of 6,000 feet.”
After the crash, wreckage was scattered for a radius if almost four hundred yards around the shattered fuselage. The hundreds of workers struggling in clinging mud and a steady drizzle to cut their way into the buckled remains of the plane were hampered through the night by hundreds of sight-seers flocking towards the area.
Mr. Cranley Onslow, Parliamentary Under Secretary for Aerospace, who went to the scene, said “callous” sight-seers were hampering the rescue workers. Two hours after the crash, all roads in the area were jammed by traffic.
The Trident, on flight BE 548 and code named G-ARPI, left Heathrow at 5.02pm with 109 passengers and nine crew members. By 5.06pm, it had crashed.
A man who had been driving along the A30 told police: “The plane just came whizzing in, along the road. You could have reached up and touched it.”
Heathrow aircraft control sounded the full scale disaster alert, and all airport emergency appliances, together with all available fire engines, ambulances, and police patrol cars for eight miles around sped to the scene. Nine hospitals in the area prepared to receive casualties, and doctors were brought in for emergency duty. In the event, they were not needed.
As the first teams of firemen reached the wreck site – throughout the night they were to work at considerable personal risk as the aircraft contained tones of highly flammable fuel – they clawed with their hands in desperate attempts to reach the passengers inside. A local doctor who ran to the spot said: “It was ghastly, sickening. A terrible mess.”
As police blocked off surrounding roads, other rescue teams began knocking down fences to enable ambulances to reach the plane. By 7pm, 70 bodies had been lifted from the fuselage and laid in long rows along the ground.
Long lines of rescuers formed in the steady drizzle, passing the broken bodies of the victims gently from the shattered fuselage to the ambulances. A number of the rescuers, police and firemen, were crying. One policeman said a small girl died in his arms as he carried her towards an ambulance.
One man was taken out of the wreckage with head injuries but died in hospital. He is understood to be Mr Melville Miller, managing director of Rowntree Mackintosh (Ireland) Limited.
A mobile crane was brought into the field to lift parts of the wreckage away; the rescuers could not use oxyacetylene cutters because of the risk of an explosion. Relays of ambulances began taking the bodies to the special mortuary.
Mr Michael Stephens, of Staines, said he was cycling along a road near by “When I looked up and saw the tail of a plane bounce into the air … then the rest of the plane burst into flames.” The fire was an isolated electrical fault and was quickly put out.
Miss Christine Wallis said she was walking past the reservoir with friends when “bits of metal began flying around us … the plane split up as it tore along the ground.”
Last night teams of investigators from the Department of Trade and Industry and the British Airline Pilots’ Association arrived at the scene to find out the contents of the flight recorders.
The same plane was involved in a collision in July 1968, at Heathrow. It was stationary at one of the terminal piers when a freighter jet carrying horses got out of control and crashed into its side. Five people were killed in the freighter. The Trident’s tail was torn off.
The experienced 51 year-old Captain Key certainly knew better than to retract the slats at this stage of the flight. Investigators later proved that it was intentional and not a mechanical problem with the equipment involved. So why did he do it? And why didn’t Second Officer Keighley or S/O Ticehurst override the captain’s fatal decision?
Without a cockpit voice recorder (CVR), which were not required in Britain at the time, we will never know for sure. The Air Accidents Investigation Board (AAIB) concluded that Second Officer Keighley was too inexperienced and that Ticehurst was preoccupied with the passenger in the cockpit (another BEA captain on a return flight).
Two seconds after the droops were retracted, the stick pusher stall recovery device operated, causing the autopilot to automatically disengage and the nose of the aircraft to pitch down. At that moment, the stall recovery system was manually inhibited by one of the pilots.
The aircraft then pitched up rapidly, losing speed and height, entering a true aerodynamic stall and then a deep stall from which no recovery was possible. Impact occurred 20 seconds later. An autopsy on the captain suggested that he had probably had a heart attack during the short flight.