Further recollections of the Kegworth Air Disaster and the emergency response

News image

Retired Chief Superintendent Paul Gibson pictured as a serving officer

Download high resolution image

Issued on 7/1/19 at 7:45 a.m.

The force is commemorating 30 years since the Kegworth Air Disaster which claimed 47 lives when an aircraft crash landed on the M1 motorway next to East Midlands airport.

In the third of a series of articles about the force’s emergency response, we hear from more officers about how they dealt with the situation as it unfolded in front of them.

All have been invited to attend a special memorial service at St Andrew’s Church in Kegworth tomorrow to remember those who lost their lives.

Clive Sparling was a young 20-year-old PC based at Beaumont Leys at the time of the crash. He now works in Resource Planning at Force Headquarters but said he can recall every moment of the day it happened.

On shift with another officer at the time, the pair heard the rush of emergency service sirens heading down the A50 and called up to see what had happened.

“We were told a plane had gone down and headed straight back to the station where we and other officers were deployed to the airport,” he said.

“What we saw when we arrived was complete carnage – wreckage strewn on the embankment – it was unbelievable because we knew that if the aircraft had been able to fly just a little further it would have made it to the runway of East Midlands Airport.”

Clive helped to identify survivors and release them, as well as victims.

“It was a horrendous sight and one I will never forget. I joined the force in 1987 and although I had received training, nothing could ever prepare you for the magnitude of this situation.

“I think adrenalin kicked in and I did what I was told to do. We were there until late afternoon the following day and it wasn’t until the next day when a colleague asked how I was that the floodgates opened.

“It has stayed with me all these years. I remember it every time I drive down the M1 and when I pass Kegworth. On the 25th anniversary I went to the memorial to have a quiet moment of reflection. I’ll attend the service on Tuesday because it’s important to remember those who didn’t survive.”

Ex-detective Constable Dean Swann had the sad duty of identifying victims and liaising with the families of loved ones.

He said: “Many of us took a private moment and shed a tear or two, but we had to keep going for them so that’s what we did.

“There was a camaraderie among all of us and that helped. I’ve had moments of reflection over the years. I was 29 when it happened and my family has grown – I’m a grandparent. There were many on board that flight who were around the same age as myself and I think about the families they would have now if they had survived.”

Paul Gibson is a retired Chief Superintendent who drove past the accident scene just moments after it happened on his way back home from Northumberland with family.

“I had to distract my children from what they could see but my instinct was to offer support immediately,” he said.

However, he was told to go home and get rest as he would be required the following day for operational support.

In fact, his work around the incident and debriefing the Force response has since been instrumental in teaching other officers how to deal with and react to major incidents.

He said: “We learned a lot from the disaster – we had to. It showed us that you can never be too prepared. I remember Margaret Thatcher, the Prime Minister at the time, visited the scene afterwards. That added another element to all the work we had to do because her safety had to be ensured.”

He added: “I still think of Kegworth every time I drive down the M1. It was such a momentous thing to have to deal with and the disruption caused by closing the motorway for that long.”

Foster Watson was a Detective Chief Inspector based in Loughborough at the time. He now lives in Spain.

He was put in charge of the enquiry which meant collating evidence including witness and survivor statements. He recalled the story of one man’s lucky escape travelling south on the M1 at the time of the accident.

“Whether it’s myth or not, I believe a car aerial was torn off by the undercarriage of the aircraft so you don’t get much luckier than that,” he said.

Mr Watson is heading to the East Midlands specifically to attend the memorial service from his home in Spain.

He added: “I feel it’s important to be there because you put so much of yourself into it. I owe it to those who lost their lives and to those who worked hard to save them.”

Air crash photo courtesy of the Leicester Mercury.

« Back to news

Share this page: