Melton policeman recalls Kegworth air crash horrors
Thirty years ago this week, Phil Frier vividly remembers travelling at speed in a van with fellow Melton police officers to deal with reports of a crashed aircraft on the M1.
He says he still remembers the Kegworth air disaster, which killed 47 people and left dozens seriously injured, like it was yesterday.
Phil, who is now 64 and long retired from the force, was part of the enormous response from emergency services across Leicestershire.
British Midland Flight 92, which was flying from Heathrow to Belfast, came down on a motorway embankment near East Midlands Airport after attempting an emergency landing on January 8, 1989.
“On the way there in the van there was lots of chit chat about things people had heard about the crash, but none of us realised the enormity of what had happened until we got there,” recalled Phil, who served 15 years as an officer based at the Melton police station.
“There was Jim Sutherland, Peter Martin, Andy Cox, myself and a few others - probably about eight of us - who were called back to the station that night and sent to Kegworth.
“I remember the view from the bridge across the motorway because all you could see was blue lights from about 100 police cars, ambulances and fire engines.”
As he moved nearer the site of the broken aircraft, he was greeted by harrowing images and sounds as rescuers worked tirelessly to save lives, administer first aid to those seriously injured and recover the bodies of those who died.
Phil, who lives in Garthorpe Drive, said: “They had dug out steps in the motorway embankment right up to the top where the plane was and the bodies were being brought back in body bags.
“It was a very macabre sight because there was a group of undertakers standing there with empty coffins and the bodies were being put in the coffins.
“For anyone who saw what we saw, it would probably put them off flying for life.
“The aircraft had broken into three parts and the cockpit had been separated from the main air frame.
“It broke behind the wings and the tail section came up in the air which is what threw the bodies out of the plane.
“All you could see was complete wreckage.”
Phil was put in charge of collecting valuables and baggage from the stricken Boeing 737. He remembers seeing wallets, wrist watches, personal possessions and even toys which had been taken on board by passengers.
A detective friend was managing the area where the bodies were brought to, a harrowing experience which had a life-long impact on him.
After starting his shift at 2pm that Sunday, Phil didn’t return home until 11am the following morning.
He remembers going out to the old news stand on Wilton Road to buy every national newspaper so he could keep the cuttings.
Phil, who was medically retired from the force after being in a serious road accident in a police patrol car on the Soby bends, has kept all those reports and any other articles about the Kegworth crash in a scrapbook which he keeps in his lounge and which he looks through regularly.
He added: “The people I really like to praise from that night were the Salvation Army.
“They turned up and fed members of the emergency services and gave us hot drinks all night long.”
Jenny Beech was 17 at the time of the Kegworth disaster and had started dating a young man who she remembers only as Stewart.
That night, Stewart was driving along the M1 with a group of friends after a night out and they came across the wreckage shortly after the crash.
He helped with the rescue effort, using skills he used in first aid training.
A few days later Stewart was almost killed in a serious motorcycle accident and, incredibly, ended up in the same Leicester Royal Infirmary ward as the pilot from the crashed plane.
Jenny, who lives in Melton, recalled: “I went to see him every day and I just remember there being really tight security in the hospital.
“I can’t believe it is 30 years ago that all that happened, but I remember that time so well because I had only just passed my driving licence.
“It just seemed so strange that Stewart was on the scene of the crash helping the survivors and then ended up in the same hospital ward as the pilot a few days later.”
A moving service was held in the village of Kegworth on Tuesday to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the crash.
More than 200 people attended St Andrew’s Church to pay their respects to those who lost their lives, and the names of all the victims of the disaster were read out.
Several serving and retired police officers who dealt with the immediate aftermath were there to pay their respects, along with survivors and the families of some victims.
Retired sergeant Bob Salter was reunited with survivor Leslie Bloomer who was among the first to be pulled from the aircraft.
Among those who laid a wreath was Leicestershire Chief Constable Simon Cole, who personally thanked officers for their tireless work that night and the following days.
He said: “This is part of the history of the force and will always be remembered.”