Kegworth survivor recalls ‘noisy black chaos’ of crash

Emergency services workers at the scene after the 1989 Kegworth air crash.
Emergency services workers at the scene after the 1989 Kegworth air crash.

A survivor of the Kegworth air crash, who will mark the 25th anniversary of the disaster tomorrow in Belfast, has recalled his memories of the plane crashing to the ground on a motorway in England.

Alan Johnston, now aged 87, remembers the Belfast-bound Boeing 737 shuddering as it dropped lower to the ground following a problem with one of its engines.

The crash killed 47 people, and 74 of the London Heathrow flight’s 126 passengers suffered serious injuries.

An investigation later revealed the pilots had shut down the wrong engine by mistake and then attempted an emergency landing at East Midlands airport.

Mr Johnston, from Strangford, suffered a broken pelvis and serious internal bleeding.

Remarkably though, the father-of-four said he cannot recall panicking.

The air crash, which aviation enthusiast Mr Johnston said became a “benchmark case for the incredible number of survivors”, came just two weeks after the Lockerbie disaster.

Mr Johnston and his wife Phyllis had been in London visiting their daughter and newborn grandson.

Having stayed on to help out while her husband flew back home, Mrs Johnston and her son Michael heard of the crash from a friend and immediately drove to the site, eventually tracing Alan to Derby hospital.

Mr Johnston, a one-time press officer with the Church of Ireland, said he regards the event as “one of the most interesting experiences of my life”.

“I was exceedingly lucky,” he said. “I am not letting it affect my life.”

At one point Mr Johnston recalled reassuring a female passenger sitting near him. He then looked out the window of the plane to see that it was level with the spire of Kegworth church.

He described the crash as “noisy black chaos”, followed by silence, before the distressing noises of the wounded.

Tomorrow the crash will be mentioned at a weekly service held in St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast.