Farnborough Air Show 1973

1972, September: Farnborough Air Show: UK's worst air crash kills 118: All one hundred and eighteen people on board a flight from London Heathrow to Brussels died when the airliner crashed minutes after take-off. The British European Airways plane came down in a field in Staines, missing the town centre by just a few hundred yards. It is the worst disaster in British aviation history.

The Trident jet, which had been involved in another accident in 1968, left Heathrow at 1708 BST and was only three miles from the airport when witnesses said it "dropped out of the sky". Surrey Constabulary officers including PC Doug Rowlands attended in large numbers. (PC Rowlands had been first on the scene at another major plane crash.)

Witnesses said the three-engine plane broke into two as it fell - the fuselage ploughed into trees bordering a reservoir and the tail section landed fifty yards away. "I heard the plane circling overhead and there was a spluttering sound as though the engines were cutting out - then there was a thud like a clap of thunder," said fifteen year-old Adrian Bailey.

Rescuers pulled two people alive from the wreckage of the airliner - a young girl, who died at the scene, and a Dublin businessman who was taken to a local hospital where he died a few hours later.

Peter King: What I remember of the day was that I was just finishing early turn panda, when the call came out that a plane had gone down in the Virginia Water area; location not known, so I picked an officer who had ran out the station, don't ask who that might have been. We drove to the area where people were searching.

The plane was found in two pieces, the tail part adrift in a field. Very quiet; except for the shouting. Bodies were checked in the seats which they were still in of course, not nice what I saw, because they had come down with a bang. I was then dragged away, because I had the car, to go and wait for the Metropolitan Police who had not turned up yet, and had to be directed to the scene and to block a road.

All I can remember of the aftermath from stories told that one PC I knew Griff Griffiths had got up on top of the fuselage overlooking the cock pit, and he said that the pilot was in a bad way. The point of this was that the chief constable had arrived; and told him to get down because he didn't have his cap on.

Also it might be me and my memory; that when I saw a programme about the crash many years later, and it showed the Metropolitan Police on scene and a roaring fire going on, I could not remember a fire. The poor souls all died; said to be down to the trainee co-pilot and the main pilot not checking the flaps.

John Thorne: This was a Sunday afternoon in the summer. I attended this incident with Chief Constable Peter Matthews. He was the first senior officer at the scene. It was thought to be on Surrey's patch but later found to be Metropolitan Police ground. The chief constable handed it over, reluctantly I might add.

It was a BEA Trident which just fell out of the sky. There was an industrial dispute going on which the captain did not agree. Graffiti had been put on his seat and it was later established that the flaps had not been taken off - hence the crash. One passenger was still alive but died shortly after removal. There had been no fire until a fireman using cutting gear started one.

John Stone: I was out for a quiet Sunday Bank Holiday drive in Walton with Inspector Mick Skinner when the "major emergency" came out over the air. At first we thought just another false alarm, but shortly afterwards the operations room confirmed there was a plane down, and so we hot footed it to the scene. Apart from a fire appliance and a Metropolitan Police Sergeant I think we were the first at the scene.

The plane had belly flopped into a field and was pretty well intact but there were no survivors. The field was awash with aviation fuel and the fire brigade almost lost their appliance as their hot exhaust set fire to the fuel underneath it. A couple of weeks later the soles came off my Doc Martens due to the aviation fuel.

We helped remove bodies from the aircraft and laid them out on the grass away from the plane, but as soon as the Metropolitan Police arrived in droves we were dismissed. I know the Chief Constable Peter Matthews was furious that so many had been given bank holiday leave, particularly on Traffic Department which left us ridiculously stretched in sorting out the resulting traffic chaos.

Colin Campbell: I was on normal traffic patrol duty in the Guildford area during the afternoon of Sunday 18th June 1972 when I was called to the traffic centre to drive the Major Incident Vehicle (a 1950's Ford box lorry (Class 3 HGV, and I think ex-army or TA), kitted out with communications equipment and all the necessary forms and paperwork to record details of a major incident), to Staines as back up for Metropolitan Police.

There had been a report of a plane crash in a field near Staines, just off the bypass. On arrival at the Staines bypass (A30) there was absolute chaos. The road was solidly blocked with vehicles, some without occupants, and all we could see were hundreds of people walking, running, and heading towards an area where they could get a view of the crashed aircraft.

That made negotiating the road to get nearer to the scene a bit of a challenge. It took time to get closer, and when we did so, remained on standby whilst the Met put their plans into operation. In the end, our vehicle was not deployed and we returned to Burpham Traffic Centre.

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