Grieving families relive horror of Kegworth crash

Mervyn Finlay
Mervyn Finlay

The 25th anniversary of the Kegworth air disaster, which killed 47 passengers onboard a Northern Ireland bound flight, has been commemorated in Belfast and at an event in the English village close to the crash site.

A number of Tyrone families were affected by the 1989 crash, with five local fatalities and at least two survivors.

Among the Tyrone people killed in the air crash were Patricia Irwin and her son Michael Hynds from Beragh, Rodney Burrows and his wife Jean from Castlecaulfield, and Augher woman Ita McKenna.

Local survivors included Joseph Small from Cookstown, who was thrown clear from the wreckage, and Dungannon man Mervyn Finlay, who suffered a broken back, neck and ankle.

Mervyn, who sat in seat 21A, was one of the most seriously injured, and has spoken of his close escape.

He remembers nothing of the crash itself. He broke his neck and back – his spine was left “hanging by a thread”. He needed months of rehabilitation. To this day he suffers with balance problems, black-outs and permanent pins-and-needles in his feet.

When he first stood up again, after some gruelling physiotherapy, Mervyn says he “could have cried”. He had to give up the job he loved and has never been able to play sport with his son. A fear of flying means he has also missed out on family holidays abroad.

Despite the catastrophic damage it caused, a remarkable number of passengers survived the tragedy.

The Boeing 737 developed a problem in its left engine shortly after it took off from Heathrow but the pilots mistakenly believed the fault was in the right engine.

They shut down the wrong engine leading to the crash just yards from the runway of East Midlands Airport where it was attempting an emergency landing.

AA patrolmen arriving in the scene spoke at the time of “complete devastation with seats and bodies piled up everywhere”, while villagers spoke of their amazement that anyone had got out alive.

Survivors spoke of the eerie silence after the crash and many vowed never to fly again.

At Derbyshire Royal Infirmary a major accident was put into operation.

From the hospital a medical flying squad of 16 doctors and nurses travelled to the scene to treat survivors.

Surgeons carried out more than 80 operations during the first 36 hours after the crash.

A memorial in Kegworth Cemetery was erected by the parish council “to those who died, those who were injured and those who took part in the rescue operation”.

A memorial service was also held at St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast where 47 candles were lit in memory of the victims of the tragedy.