Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

Front Page



UK Politics







Talking Point
On Air
Low Graphics

Friday, January 8, 1999 Published at 18:03 GMT


Kegworth: 10 years on

Although 47 people died, more than 70 survived

The BBC's James Roberson: "Pilots had unwittingly shut down the plane's good engine"
It is 10 years since a British Midland passenger jet en route from Heathrow to Northern Ireland crashed a few hundred yards from the runway at East Midlands airport, killing 47 people.

The Boeing 737-400 ploughed into an embankment of the M1 motorway near the Leicestershire village of Kegworth.

More than 70 of the passengers survived. Probably because traffic was light late on a Sunday evening, no-one travelling along what is normally one of the busiest stretches of motorway in Europe was involved.

Engine on fire

Just 18 days after the Lockerbie disaster had claimed 270 lives, the British Midland aircraft left London's Heathrow airport for Belfast.

[ image: The scene a decade ago]
The scene a decade ago
The plane was only a short way into a routine flight when, at just after 8pm, at a height of 28,000 feet, the crew suddenly realised they had a problem with an engine.

The left engine was on fire, but Captain Kevin Hunt and co-pilot David McClelland - both badly hurt in the crash - thought it was the right engine and shut the wrong one down.

They tried to land the blazing aircraft at British Midland's "home" airport - East Midlands.

Bob Walker talks to people with vivid memories of the terrible night
The plane impacted short of the airport on one side of the motorway, shot across, and finished on the embankment on the other side.

The nose broke off and the tail flipped over as the plane's speed dropped from 100mph to total standstill in about a second.

'Fifty tonne glider'

[ image: By morning the total extent of the devastation could be seen]
By morning the total extent of the devastation could be seen
A remarkable 79 people survived the crash, including Donat Desmond from Northern Ireland.

He says: "I believe what happened could have happened to any pilots.

"As we approached the airport we didn't need much power so the defective engine worked OK.

"But as we made our final approach, we put on power and the engine just conked out.

"At 900 feet we became a glider - a fifty tonne glider with ten tonnes of fuel, and we approached the ground pretty fast."

A total of 39 people died at the scene, including Mr Desmond's wife, who was sitting beside him. Eight other people died later.

[ image: The pilots tried to land at East Midlands Airport]
The pilots tried to land at East Midlands Airport
Another survivor was machinery trader Noel Crymble, 50, who was returning to his home at Newtownabbey, near Belfast.

Recalling the crash, Mr Crymble said: "It was so sudden and so fast. I can remember seeing torn seats all around and people being hit by luggage falling out of the overhead lockers.

"I had been talking on the flight to a girl sitting next to me. Later I heard she had died."

Survivor Chris Thompson has campaigned relentlessly to improve air safety since the crash.

Safety improvements

Thanks to the Belfast businessman's intense lobbying, rear view cockpit cameras are now in service with some UK operators.

Another aspect of safety which received attention as a result of the crash stemmed from the fact that although many passengers were killed and horrifically injured, others sustained only minor cuts and bruises.

This discrepancy led an orthopaedic surgeon operating on survivors to help conduct a study into the Kegworth disaster.

[ image: Professor Angus Wallace says safety could still be improved]
Professor Angus Wallace says safety could still be improved
Professor Angus Walace of the Queen's Medical Centre in Nottingham said: "We discovered a lot of those on board had not adopted a brace position for the impact.

"There were many fractures where people's legs flailed under the seat infront, and of course arm and head injuries as they shot forward.

"I'm pleased to say the CAA and British airlines have now adopted our recommended brace position with you head forward by your knees, your hands over your head, and your feet firmly planted behind your knees so they can't shoot forward."

But Prof Wallace would like to see further safety measures - including rear-facing seats in all aircraft, a possibility that has been considered and rejected by different airlines, and not purely, they say, for reasons of cost.

Backwards is safer

Chairman of British Midland Airways, Sir Michael Bishop said: "There is no doubt that research has shown it is safer to fly backwards.

"However, the public don't want it - they don't want to fly backwards. Somehow they feel more frightened if they face backwards than forwards."

The crash did, however, lead to improved communications between pilots and cabin crew.

Mr Thompson said the plane had been modified and the pilots had only seen a 45-minute video to explain the new adaptions.

He said: "That plane should never have been in the air.

"But there are things which have come out of this which thankfully should have improved things."

Advanced options | Search tips

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage | ©

UK Contents

Northern Ireland

Relevant Stories

08 Jan 99 | UK
Kegworth remembered

Internet Links

The British Orthopaedic Sports Trauma Association

British Midland

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

In this section

Next steps for peace

Blairs' surprise over baby

Bowled over by Lord's

Beef row 'compromise' under fire

Hamilton 'would sell mother'

Industry misses new trains target

From Sport
Quins fightback shocks Cardiff

From Business
Vodafone takeover battle heats up

IRA ceasefire challenge rejected

Thousands celebrate Asian culture

From Sport
Christie could get two-year ban

From Entertainment
Colleagues remember Compo

Mother pleads for baby's return

Toys withdrawn in E.coli health scare

From Health
Nurses role set to expand

Israeli PM's plane in accident

More lottery cash for grassroots

Pro-lifers plan shock launch

Double killer gets life

From Health
Cold 'cure' comes one step closer

From UK Politics
Straw on trial over jury reform

Tatchell calls for rights probe into Mugabe

Ex-spy stays out in the cold

From UK Politics
Blair warns Livingstone

From Health
Smear equipment `misses cancers'

From Entertainment
Boyzone star gets in Christmas spirit

Fake bubbly warning

Murder jury hears dead girl's diary

From UK Politics
Germ warfare fiasco revealed

Blair babe triggers tabloid frenzy

Tourists shot by mistake

A new look for News Online