Air crash image courtesy of the Leicester Mercury.
Issued on 4/1/19 at 8:28 a.m.
On January 8 1989 - 30 years ago - emergency services in Leicestershire were called to deal with an exceptional situation.
Police, fire, and ambulance were among those who rushed to the scene on the M1 motorway near East Midlands Airport where an aircraft carrying 126 passengers and crew had crash landed. Some 47 lost their lives and dozens were left seriously injured.
On Tuesday, a memorial service to the victims will take place at 11am at St Andrew’s Church in Kegworth. The service has been organised by Kegworth Parish Council.
Police officers who helped deal with the aftermath of the crash along with their families have been invited to attend. Among those hoping to be there is Bob Salter, a Duty Sergeant patrolling the motorway at the time. He saw the accident unfold just 100 yards in front of him.
“It was on fire when it bounced over the embankment on one side, hit the central reservation, took out a lamp post, then struck the central reservation and ended up on the other embankment where it broke up,” he said.
“It was still on fire when myself, PC Edwards and PC Bob Gordon climbed onto the wing and took an exit door out. We dragged three people from the wreckage immediately who had been thrown out of their seats. All of whom, we realised later, had broken legs.”
At some point the Sergeant found himself on the flight deck where he discovered Captain Kevin Hunt unconscious and his co-pilot David McClelland who was also badly injured. Both were to survive.
“There was silence apart from the aircraft, which was still settling into the embankment with some creaking of metal work. Most of the seats had been crushed and when the medics arrived from Leicester Royal Infirmary and the Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham and elsewhere, they went straight to work.
“Emergency services were everywhere. The RAF team which had dealt with Lockerbie came to assist, even a mines rescue team from the West Midlands. Unbelievably a van load of SAS who had been passing by got out and helped, including Andy McNab.
“Members of the public too came to lend a hand. It was extraordinary. We did what we could. I’m sure there are things we could have done better. I know there were, but it’s not every day an aircraft comes down on a motorway right in front of you.”
Retired Detective Inspector Bryan Warraker helped assist with the emergency service response.
He said that the situation seemed “surreal” but once those first few moments had passed, it was a case of getting on with what he had to do, despite the horrors in front of him.
“We had to ensure the scene was preserved and no one crossed the cordons who wasn’t supposed to. I remember escorting the wives of the two pilots, who had survived, to the scene because they wanted to see for themselves what it looked like.”
The former Beaumont Leys inspector also recalled the arrival of a team from the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) in Farnborough, Hampshire, who helped remove the aircraft.
“They had just returned from removing the wreckage of the Lockerbie air crash and knew exactly what they needed to do,” he said.
“Originally, it was thought we could put screens up around the wreckage to get traffic flowing back onto the motorway which was a major economic artery, but that just wasn’t possible and it wasn’t until the Friday - five days after the accident that it was eventually reopened.”
He added: “I remember just how tired all the officers were after 12 hours at the scene when they were travelling back - many asleep in the van on each other’s shoulders.”
Many of those who took part in the emergency service operation received commendations for their remarkable efforts that evening and in the aftermath.
Some 18 months after the air crash, the AAIB published a report which found engine damage had been caused by a fan blade which had cracked and loosened due to fatigue.