BBC Home
Explore the BBC
Search ON THIS DAY by date
Front Page |  Years |  Themes |  Witness
About This Site | Text Only
1972: Memories of the Staines air crash

Flight BE548 crashed within three minutes of taking off from London Heathrow airport, with the loss of 118 lives.

The Trident jet came down in a field near Staines after the crew of the aircraft failed to maintain the correct speed after take-off.

It remains one of Britain's worst air disasters.

Here is a selection of your memories of that day:

I was the BOAC Real Time Duty Officer in charge of the Real Time Computer System known as IPARS, on duty when the incident happened.

I got a call to close down the passenger list for BE548 as BOAC had access to it.

The next day I was on afternoon shift and somebody purporting to be the police phoned and asked for the passenger manifest.

I told him I could not give him the information over the phone. He turned out to be a newspaper reporter.

What depths they will go to at such times of tragedy!
Liam Murphy, UK

I was a leading ambulanceman on the second ambulance to arrive at the crash scene. Details were as described, and there was an eerie silence around the wreckage.

After checking casualties and finding no survivors, we were kept busy extricating bodies.

After about two hours there were many ambulances and fire tenders on scene, so we had the unpleasant job of loading the dead and taking them, with a police escort to a hangar at Heathrow.

An army lorry with a group of soldiers arrived during the recovery and these men did a great job and were a great help to everyone.
Bert Welland, UK

My father was the Captain of the Trident which crashed at Staines on 18 June 1972 when I was 13. Ever since this terrible tragedy, my family has had to endure the press repeating the unproven theory that he had a heart attack and this resulted in a lack of concentration leading to mistakes being made.

The inquiry actually reported that what really happened would never be known for sure. The reason for the crash was the droops being retracted too early leading to a stall.

There had been several problems with this lever before - it had even been known to move on its own - and it was altered as a result of this accident along with a number of other technical and procedural changes.

Another interesting fact is that the papers relating to this matter are being kept for 50 years rather than being released under the usual 30-year rule. Much easier for everyone if it can be blamed on the crew especially if they are unable to speak for themselves.
Julie Key, UK

I was returning to London in the college minibus from a friend's 21st birthday party in Weymouth that afternoon.

There was traffic everywhere but most of it diverted away from the A30. It was a rainy afternoon and I wouldn't have thought that anyone would have deliberately driven to see the wreckage; we were all sent away along the A3044 by the time the news got out. Probably a result of being so close I have maintained an interest.

Then I read in one of my aviation books the possibility that the accident could have been caused by faulty instrumentation rather than pilot incapacity or error.

At the time the trident aircraft, although a fine machine, was losing sales to the American rival 727 and 737. Word that a fault with the aircraft could have been responsible might have further damaged the trident's sales prospects.

I tried to get more information but everywhere I looked seemed to be blocked - official reports out of print etc. Then I read today from the pilots ! daughter that the papers won't be released till 50 years are up; presumably anyone who might have been involved in a cover-up will be safely in their coffins by then.

If Julie reads this perhaps she will accept that whatever actually happened that day your father didn't die in vain; he did a great service to us all in making air travel as safe as it is now.
Brian Ransley, UK

My heart goes out to Julie Key.

My father was a First Officer on the Trident Fleet in 1972.

I was 10 years old and the memory of fearing that it was my father (who was flying that day) still brings me to tears all these years later.

Julie, I'm sure whatever pain your father may or may not have been in would have been immaterial.

He would have fought with everything he had to the last second to recover that aeroplane.

We can't know everything that happened but remember that although everyone on the flight died, no one on the ground was hurt.

They came down in a field despite being in a built up area.

They deserve credit for that.
Jan Hampshire, UK

I was a young 19-year-old fireman then.

The first we actually knew about the crash was when a guy rang the door bell at our fire station (Staines).

I remember his words clearly - "Did you know a plane has gone down near the Crooked Billet?"

We thought he was pulling our leg. Sadly, when we arrived I was appalled at the scene in front of me.

It was the worst incident I attended in 32 years' service.
Harry, UK

My brother, Dave Rigsby, was a newly qualified fireman when his watch were called to attend the crash. I think he was either stationed at Egham or Staines at the time. He was badly affected by what he saw and I don't think he ever really got over it.

Sadly he died himself three years later but I would welcome contact from any of his colleagues who also attended that horrendous crash.
Alison Brandon, England

My late father was a police officer at Staines and attended the crash site. The scenes that greeted him stayed with him for the rest of his life.

As regards to the so called sight-seers, the crash site was right next to the A30, a main route from London to the west, and would have been crowded with traffic that would have been stopped by the police, so they didn't have much choice but to have been there... It was the press that had to go on about ghouls.
Steve Manns, UK

At the time, I was Managing Director for Memorex's European Operations and living in Walton-on-Thames.

My financial officer and I had reservations on this plane. At the airport prior to checking in we met my Operations Officer who was booked on Sabena to Brussels at the same time. We tried to get him on our flight but it was fully booked. We then joined him on Sabena.

We learned of the crash on our arrival in Brussels. That was worth at least two or three of our nine lives.
William McCalmont, USA

I was a 19-year-old trainee ambulance man who attended this incident.

I would have been on the scene in one of the first ambulances but was diverted to a road accident at nearby Addlestone.

My recall was that we simply got on with the job unlike now in 2004 when everyone would have needed counselling.

My grandmother sent me £10 for bravery in the field. However it was quite traumatic particularly seeing all of the victims lined up on the floor of a hangar at Heathrow.
Paul J Meek, UK

I did not witness this crash but I was one of the shorthand writers who reported the official inquiry into the disaster. I remember that the other two members of the flight crew were Jeremy Keighley and Ticehurst.

Evidence revealed that, shortly before takeoff, the captain had been engaged in an altercation with someone in the canteen. I found the human interest, including the technical side of it, most absorbing.

I also recall that Farnborough had recently developed a system to determine exactly which warning lights are illuminated at the moment of impact. This was based on the extent of deformation of the bulb filaments.
Michael Phoenix, USA

I remember being in a car with my mother, father and sister. We were on our way back from the coast when we got caught up in the traffic jams that stretched to the M3.

It was very eerie as all we could see was the huge pillar of smoke in the distance as ambulances and fire engines raced by for what seemed like hours. We got home very late that night.

We had heard what happened on radio so we were very sad. One of my earliest memories. I hope that the families of those who passed away that day were able to eventually lessen their grief.
Ian, Hounslow

There but for the grace of God go I - I was booked to take this flight two days later. I remember the accident well and still, after 32 years, have my ticket for the Sunday flight. A very sad day for the families involved and so lucky that the flight did not land on Staines.
Tony FitzGerald, New Zealand

I was two at the time, being pushed in a pram across the Staines Moor. According to my father, the plane came down about 100 metres away from us. One man landed just next to us still clutching his briefcase. My mother rushed us home, and my dad stayed to search for survivors. He doesn't talk about the incident very much.
Barnaby, Australia

I was 12 at the time and living in Egham. My father was decorating my grandparents' house in Staines when he heard a thump. I remember sirens for hours and a big fuss about sightseers in the way of fire engines.

My friend who was passing in a car at the moment of the impact, stopped and was one of the first people on the sight. He said everything was silent, only one other person was running about to see if anyone was alive.

My friend then was able to see luggage over the grass and one of the cock pit crew lying dead.
Andrew Wykes, USA

I was 17 at the time and remember it well. I think that Private Eye ran a cartoon drawing of the back of a car with a sticker in saying: "We have seen the Trident Air Disaster". It was a criticism of the ghoulish behaviour of site-seers who had flooded to the crash site after the accident, causing problems for the police and emergency services.

Sadly, the captain of the Trident had a serious heart problem after take-off and the rest of the crew were rather inexperienced to deal with the problem with the prematurely retracted droops on the aircraft.
Jeffrey Davis, England

I think it was a grey Sunday afternoon. My girlfriend Heather and I were in the Staines Wimpy Bar as, unknown to us, the Trident fell a few hundred yards away.

Soon after, driving eastwards along the A308 dual carriageway from the Crooked Billet towards Sunbury Cross, we were horrified to see a fleet of ambulances - we counted 30-plus - racing westwards towards us. I was working at Heathrow airport and we just knew it must be a plane down, nothing else would merit that reaction.

Returning to our flat in Staines many hours later we were astonished to get caught up in heavy traffic caused by sightseers, many of whom were children presumably with their parents.
Aldo Hanson, UK My parents and grandmother were among the "sight-seers" on the A30.

Believe me, they certainly didn't choose to be there. They had been visiting relatives, and were returning home when the crash occurred. The police closed the road and they and many others were trapped for hours while the emergency services attended the scene.

So to all those who read in the papers about the vultures: don't believe all you hear.
Jane Pook, England

I was seven years old at the time and like some events in one's life, they stay in your memory. I was with my parents driving back from London and as a treat, my father decided to go via London airport so that my brother and I could plane spot!

In those days not every car had a radio and we got stuck in the traffic jam along the A3044. We assumed that there had been a road accident, but eventually word got back to us that a plane had crashed. My father did a U-turn and took another route home.

When we got home we watched the TV news and saw those ghastly scenes, in particular the Trident's severed tail lying in that field. As I grew up I became interested in air safety and bought every book on the Staines Trident crash so that I could find out what caused it.
Andrew Lee, UK

My father was a police officer at the crash. He's at a memorial service this week. He doesn't want to talk much about it. He's always hated flying since.
Gary, UK

My grandfather was one of the crash investigators called to the Staines disaster. He was based at Farnborough airport at the time.

My mother mentioned that they used that exact aircraft as passengers only four or five months earlier. It was one of the last air crashes my grandfather was involved in.
David Scard, England

I remember the roads blocking up with cars and the sad sight of morbid sightseers wanting to see the crash sight that Sunday night.

I also remember that even from Englefield Green you could see the blue lights of the emergency services that evening.
Steve Bowles, UK

I seem to remember the biggest hoo-ha regarding this tragedy was the fact that emergency people couldn't get near because of the sightseers!

In fact, I believe Giles of the Daily Express may have drawn a cartoon on the matter.
Susan Morrison, Scotland

I was six when this happened, and the field was behind our house. I remember lots of smoke for hours, and people trying to see what was going on. There were plenty of cars trying to make their way down a track into the field.
Graham Freeman, UK

Management brought in the wrecked parts of the engines for us to dismantle as training<br>
Robert Miles, England<br>

I was an apprentice aircraft engineer at the time and like many other workers at Heathrow we had to commute past the crash site each day for some weeks until it was cleared. It was a sombre start to each day.

Later the management brought in the wrecked parts of the engines for us to dismantle as training. They were embedded with mud and grass. We refused as we all knew staff who had died in the crash and they relented and took the parts away.
Robert Miles, England

I was 11 at the time of the crash and lived in Hayes, the other side of the airport from Staines where the crash occured.

My father worked for Pan American on the airport at the time and arrived home clearly shocked that a plane could go down that quickly after take off.

Dad was quiet for a few days after this. He was rarely like this - in fact the next time I remember him this way was after the Tennerife Disaster (KLM/PanAm crash) where one of his friends on the flight deck was one of the few survivors.
Derek Britton, UK

I remember this day very well. I was 17, living about 10 miles from Heathrow and can remember the hours following the crash.

It put me off flying and I didn't take my first flight until 1985<br>
Jane Green, England<br>

The road outside our house - Long Lane in Hillingdon - came to a complete standstill for about four or five hours. We believed it was because people were trying to get to the airport to see the scene.

I can honestly say it put me off flying and I didn't take my first flight until 1985. You would not believe what happened the day before we were due to fly? The Manchester air disaster when the plane again crashed on take off! I don't know how I managed to get on that plane.
Jane Green, England

Bad memories of very many people stopping on their way home to view the accident - ghoulish.

What you have not mentioned that the reason the aircraft stalled was at that time the leading edge flaps on the wings were not deployed or retracted early. These days these flaps remain automatically extended until the main flaps are withdrawn.
J Chubb, England

I asked my father if he would drive over there so I could see the crash<br>

I was 16 at the time and was in a car being driven back to London by my late father when the news came over the car radio. As Staines wasn't too far away I asked my father if he would drive over there so I could see the crash.

My father looked at me curiously and said no it wasn't a good idea and I would not like what I would see. He was right and to this day I am still ashamed of myself for asking.

For someone with a lively interest in news and current affairs, the odd thing about this event is that I don't remember it. At all.

Not so odd, though, in that I was living in Cologne, Germany at the time, and reading about it reminds me how isolated one could be - in what is really the recent past - living just a few hundred miles away.

A huge contrast to today, when I have logged onto the BBC News site from my hotel room in Tokyo to catch up on the news - in 1972 I saved a king's ransom to buy a British newspaper once every couple of weeks and must have missed the coverage.

There is an interesting theme of ghoulishness versus curiosity running through people's memories.

I was touched by the comments of the (then) teenager who wanted his father to divert the car to see the crash site, and has been ashamed ever since.

p> At one time or another in our life most of us have said or done something - usually many things! - of which we are at least temporarily ashamed, and it seems to me that this is something he should not dwell on.

He was simply young and curious, and if a moral or ethical lesson was learned he should feel able to move on with a clear conscience.

Less caring people do much worse things and dismiss them from their mind immediately.

Finally, if it's true (as the daughter of the flight's Captain points up) that the full report will be suppressed for another 17 years: WHY?
Richard Savory, UK

More memories
It was the 19th of June. I was five years old. <br>

My mother came into my bedroom to wake me up as usual. Her eyes were very red and as she sat down on my bed she started to cry. "You will never see Daddy again" she said. <br>

My father, Guy Jackson was one of the Irish businessmen on the plane. I have very few real memories of him but I do remember that he used to draw funny faces on my boiled eggs for me before cracking them. <br>

Thirty-one years later, on the morning of 19th June 2003 I watched my son being born in a hospital room in Japan. We named him 'Kai' in memory of his grandfather.<br>
Patrick Jackson, Japan<br>

Emergency services at the scene of the crash
All 118 people on board died in the accident

 E-mail this story to a friend

The wrecked Trident jet bursts into flames at the crash scene
The plane continued to burn for hours after the crash

Witness Stories

Web Links

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

Search ON THIS DAY by date

^^ back to top
Front Page |  Years |  Themes |  Witness
©MMVIII | News Sources | Privacy & Cookies Policy