A survivor of the Kegworth air disaster has spoken of how he ‘didn’t know if he was dead or alive’ when the plane came down exactly 30 years ago today.
British Midland flight BD92 from London Heathrow to Belfast International crashed on the M1 embankment near East Midlands Airport on January 8 1989, killing 47 of the 126 on board.
Leslie Bloomer, now 57, was one of the 79 survivors, whose lives changed forever after the plane took off that night.
Today at a 30th anniversary memorial service he revealed he is still terrified of flying and that he wasn’t supposed to be on the ill-fated plane, but decided to get on an earlier one at the last minute.
Floral wreaths were laid in front of a memorial site in Kegworth, Leicestershire today, where a British Midland flight from London Heathrow to Belfast crashed into the M1 embankment near East Midlands Airport on January 8 1989
He said: ‘When the plane stopped moving I was sitting there and, for a second or two, I wasn’t sure whether I was dead or alive actually.
Leslie Bloomer, now 57 (pictured today was one of the 79 survivors, whose lives changed forever that night
‘I saw my friend to the right, he was unconscious, and my other friend wasn’t in good shape either. I was trapped with my legs under the seat.’
Mr Bloomer, from Killylea, County Amagh, was among the many on the plane from Northern Ireland.
The disaster, which happened just two weeks after 270 people were killed in the Lockerbie bombing in Scotland, has become synonymous with the small Leicestershire village.
Today wreaths were laid by families, emergency services, councils and others affected by the tragedy at a memorial site in the village.
Crash survivor Dessie Clarke attended the service in his wheelchair, supported by his daughter Ashley.
The disaster left many families without husbands, wives, children and other relatives.
Before the wreath-laying, the names of the victims were read out at a 45-minute church service at St Andrew’s Kegworth, followed by a minute’s silence.
Around 300 people came to the church to hear Reverend Lauretta Wilson speak and mourners sing hymns, read prayers and light candles.
Some of those who had flown from Northern Ireland to attend the commemorations wiped away tears as people paid their respects.
Mr Bloomer added: ‘It was very emotional when they started to read the names. The first and second names read out, I knew those people from back home.
Today the small Leicestershire village of Kegworth fell silent to remember the 47 people killed in a plane disaster there 30 years ago. Crash survivor Dessie Clarke is pictured with his daughter Ashley at the memorial at St Andrew’s Church today
Disaster: The Belfast-bound Boeing 737 is pictured smashed to pieces after it crashed in Kegworth in January 1989
‘I didn’t know they were on the plane, I hadn’t seen them at the departure lounge at Heathrow, I hadn’t seen them on the plane.
‘I remember when I found out they were killed on the plane, and when they were read out today, I could barely hold the tears back.
‘Coming up here for this service I started to think about the plane crash a lot, and if I go on holidays, once I get on to the plane, taking off gets me and landing gets me.’
Speaking after the commemoration, he said: ‘I know this morning, when I got on the plane in Belfast, and when it got on to the runway – if they’d have opened the door and said ‘Do you want to get out?’, I’d have got out.
‘I was sitting there just shaking. Flying is still tough for me but I’m very glad to come here.
‘I’ve met people that I haven’t seen for 20 odd years. To meet nurses, ambulance crews, the fire service – it’s brilliant. And to see the way people here put this on and how it impacted this village.’
Dignitaries are pictured carrying floral tributes to the Kegworth Memorial today following a church service to remember the 47 victims
Wreaths were laid by families, emergency services, councils and others affected at a memorial site in Kegworth today
Speaking of the events leading up to the flight, he said: ‘We shouldn’t even have been on that plane, we were booked on the 9.20pm plane but my friend said to me.
‘We’re going to be here for another three hours, I wonder if we could get an earlier flight home?’ There was room on the 7.20pm so we jumped on it.
‘Another thing, when I got on the plane this morning I was sitting on the same row of seats as I was sitting on that night. It’s strange the way you think of things like that.’
Reflecting on the incident itself, Mr Bloomer said: ‘The left-hand engine kept putting out small sparks, small flames. It didn’t feel good.
‘I actually had a flashback at the weekend of the last 10 seconds or so before it hit the ground and I could imagine the pilot sitting there trying to steer it and then the thud on the ground.
Opening the commemorations today, Reverend Wilson said: ‘Kegworth has never forgotten that fateful night on January 8 1989.
Before the wreath-laying, the names of those who died were read out during a 45-minute church service, led by Reverend Lauretta Wilson, followed by a minute’s silence
Around 300 people attended the service, led by Reverend Lauretta Wilson, including family members of the 29 from Northern Ireland who died on the Heathrow to Belfast flight
‘Whatever our motivations, it is good to have the opportunity to remember and honour those who lost their lives. The dreadful event shook all of our communities.’
The plane, with 126 people on board, had taken off from Heathrow just before 8pm on January 8.
Loud bangs were heard coming from the left-hand engine as an evening meal was being served to the 118 passengers.
Captain Kevin Hunt and his co-pilot, David McClelland, shut down the correctly-working right-hand engine, but efforts to make an emergency landing at East Midlands Airport failed.
Instead, the plane, which was on fire and had blazing debris dropping from it, came down on the M1 embankment with the runway at East Midlands Airport only a few hundred yards away.
Despite the crash, nobody on the ground was injured and some of the passengers were able to walk away unscathed.
Most of the deaths occurred at the front of the plane but 79 people, including the two pilots, survived.
A plane passes over the memorial site near St Andrew’s Church, Kegworth, after today’s 30th anniversary service there
In 1989 Lesley Pendleton was the clerk at Kegworth parish council, the Leicestershire county councillor for the area, as well as the district councillor.
She was responsible for an emergency plan for the village in the immediate aftermath of the disaster and had to think about what the community could do to help.
Ms Pendleton said: ‘It’s vivid for me now as it was then. Everyone in the village that night can tell you exactly where they were when the plane came down.
‘I was driving my daughter back after she was visiting a friend in Breedon. As I was coming off the A453 I saw a plume of smoke rising over the motorway and I thought it must be another car fire.
WHAT HAPPENED ON THE NIGHT OF THE KEGWORTH AIR DISASTER?
The British Midland flight BD92, a Boeing 737-400, crashed on the embankment of the M1 motorway near the village of Kegworth in Leicestershire on January 8 1989.
The plane had left London Heathrow just after 8pm and was due to fly to Belfast, Northern Ireland.
After the aircraft took off, staff began to serve an evening meal to the 118 passengers on board.
It was then that a fan blade broke in the left engine, disrupting the air conditioning and filling the cabin with smoke.
Nightmare: The British Midland Boeing 737 crashed into the M1 embankment near the village of Kegworth, Leicestershire on January 8 1989. The crash site is pictured in the days afterwards. Miraculously no one on the ground was hurt
The two pilots on board thought it was an issue with the right-hand engine, shutting down the functioning engine and pumping more fuel into the functioning one.
They were trying to perform an emergency landing at East Midlands Airport nearby, but it failed and the plane plummeted with the runway in sight.
It burst into flames and came crashing to the ground – killing 47 of the 126 on board. Both pilots survived.
‘I decided to to stop on the bridge over the motorway to see what was happening and when I looked over the side there was a sight I won’t ever forget.
‘The plane was broken up with wreckage the embankment by the motorway and a set of wheels in the central reservation.
‘But one of the things I remember most clearly is how all the cars had come to a halt.
‘People use the word miracle all the time but I think the fact that no car was hit was a miracle and that none of those cars hit each other adding to the casualties.
‘The queue was backing up and it was eerily quiet. Then while I was watching – before any of the emergency workers arrived – all of the cars doors opened almost simultaneously as people realised what had happened.’
Not long after the crash a string of politicians and other dignitaries began to arrive at the scene to see the wreckage for themselves and try to raise the morale of villagers and emergency workers struggling to comprehend magnitude of what had happened.
The Reverend Ian Paisley was one of the first to arrive – the DUP leader eager to lend support to the Northern Irish survivors and the relatives of victims who were beginning to arrive in Kegworth.
Margaret Thatcher was also heavily involved in dealing personally with effects of the crash and Lesley recalls getting an unexpected phone call from the Prime Minister.
The aircraft can be seen split in two with debris strewn across woodland by the side of the motorway in Leicestershire
Ms Pendleton said: ‘She wanted me to organise a disaster appeal to help the survivors and the families of those who had died.
‘What was the conversation like? It was Margaret Thatcher. There wasn’t one really.
‘She tells you all things she wants doing and you do them. She was very focused but also very concerned for everyone who had been affected.’
She still lives on the edge of Kegworth, a short distance from the perimeter fence of East Midlands Airport.
The landing lights are visible from her home. She is no longer clerk to parish council or a district or county councillor but remains active in the village community.
Mary Jennings moved to Kegworth in 1990 – the year after the crash.
The 69-year-old said: ‘When we told our friends where we were going they were surprised.
‘They all asked ‘Why are you going there?’ Our house was actually right under the flightpath.
‘When we moved it was still very raw in the village but there was already a feeling that people did not want it to dominate life in the village – and it hasn’t.
‘An anniversary of the crash is always a big thing – the silver one particularly was.
‘But between the anniversaries people don’t talk about it all the time.’
Villager Beryl Rock, 92, says Kegworth is a very different place to how it was three decades ago.
A black and white photograph shows the wreckage of the crashed London to Belfast flight up close on the M1 embankment
She said: ‘The constant thing is the planes overhead and the noise from that but you really do grow accustomed to it.
‘The changes have been gradual – slow even – but the village is bigger and it has seemed busier. Some people leave to start new lives elsewhere, new people come in.
‘When they arrive they often do want to know about the disaster from people who were here because it is a part of what the village is. It is important to commemorate.’
Sheila Sharpe, 71, who has lived in the village since 1962, has files filled with press cuttings from the days, weeks and months after the disaster.
Ms Sharpe, who has never flown, said: ‘My daughter thought it was a fault with the washing machine because of the sound.
‘Some people went out into the street when they heard it. They saw the plane coming in so low they were sure it was going to hit the church spire.
‘I wasn’t there but they said people started to clap when the pilot cleared the church. They thought the plane was going to make it and then. It could have wiped out our estate.’