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1989: 'A plane has crashed on the motorway'

British Midland flight 092 crashed onto one of the UK's busiest motorways on 8 January 1989.

It was just a few hundred yards from East Midlands airport when it came down onto the M1 near Kegworth in Leicestershire.

No one on the ground was killed, but motorists were some of the first people to arrive at the scene. Ben Wade was one of them.

I saw this plane in the sky - it was dark of course so I could only see the lights.

I glanced at it occasionally and suddenly something caught my eye: some sparks which came out of the back of it.

Then a glowing piece flew out of it and I could see it dropping towards the ground - it was like a piece of red-hot metal.


" I passed under the bridge and there was this scene of utter devastation in front of me "

I thought, "That plane is in trouble and I don't really want to be underneath it when it comes down."

I estimated that at the speed I was doing I would be underneath it when it passed overhead, so I slowed down.

I put my hazard flashers on - I was in the middle-lane and the van to the left of me did the same.

We breasted down the motorway on those two lanes slowing traffic down and we continued until the plane went out of sight behind a couple of bridges.

And then suddenly I passed under the bridge and there was this scene of utter devastation in front of me.

Fire

I parked my car almost opposite the plane and ran like mad to a nearby emergency phone and gave a very terse announcement of what had happened.

The phone gave about three rings and when it was answered I said:

"I'm ringing from phone number so-and-so from the M1. A plane has crashed on the motorway. This is a major incident. All services are required. Have you got that?"

He said, "Yes", and I put the phone down and ran back to my car.

I then realised that the port engine of the plane was on fire, so I thought the important thing was to put that out.


" [I] yelled at people to move the bits of tree that were in the road "

So I climbed over the barriers and climbed up the embankment which was very muddy and slimy. I managed to get up there by grabbing onto tufts of grass.

But there was nothing I could do to put it out - I hadn't got a fire extinguisher. I ran around trying to find someone who had one and then I heard the airport fire engine coming.

It couldn't reach the site because of all the cars that were blocking the southbound carriageway.

So I rushed back to the car, grabbed this red jacket I had and yelled at people to move the bits of tree that were in the road - sycamore that looked like they had been hit by the plane.

Ambulances

By then the flames were starting to get bigger. Fortunately people responded really well. We cleared bits of tree and aircraft off the southbound carriage way and then yelled at people to move their cars.

I shouted at people almost abusively in order to get them moving, but they did, allowing the fire engine to come down the fast lane.

It put the fire out on the port engine from right across three lanes of motorway.


" I suspect one or two people we carried were not alive "

Having got rid of the traffic the ambulances then followed.

They had two staff in them and two stretchers, so I became one end of a stretcher. We had to carry them over the barriers in the centre of the motorway and then carry them back with people on them.

I can remember carrying one young chap who was a steward who had broken his ankles, but I never heard what happened to him. He was fully conscious and was concerned about his passengers.

I suspect one or two people we carried were not alive. We did what we could.

'Shocked state'

More emergency personnel arrived and the ambulances started coming down the northbound carriageway the wrong way so they didn't have to climb over the barrier.

Then more fire appliances arrived and I ran out cables for the fire services to put their lights up.

I was asked to move my car because I think they were going to bring helicopters in.

In a rather shocked state I drove down the motorway - which was completely empty of course - to the next services and phoned my home and the BBC newsroom, to whom I gave an interview which was quoted widely worldwide and then I drove home.

It's only later that it hit me. It still upsets me when I think about it.

In Context
Ben Wade was working for the BBC at Ealing Studios at the time of the crash and living in Maidenhead, Berkshire.

He is now retired.


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