Edinburgh plane crash victims remembered 50 years on

Emergency crews examine the wreckage of the plane. Picture: Daily Mail
Emergency crews examine the wreckage of the plane. Picture: Daily Mail
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IT was one of the worst plane crashes in Scottish history, but over the years the fate of Vickers Vanguard G-APEE became a faded memory.

And even though 36 passengers and crew – many of them from Edinburgh – were lost when their flight crashed on to the Heathrow Tarmac, there has been nothing to show for the tragedy.

Now, however, Edinburgh Airport is to honour the crash victims by opening a book of condolence so those affected by the disaster can leave a note paying their personal respects.

The unusual move comes as the 50th anniversary of the tragic accident, which claimed the lives of 30 passengers and six crew on October 27, 1965, draws near.

The book will be placed inside the terminal’s ground-floor prayer room, near the international arrivals gate.

Airport communications director Gordon Robertson said the decision to open the book of condolence was taken after some relatives asked if the anniversary could be marked.

“Many of the airport staff today weren’t aware of the accident,” he said.

“We realised there was a real depth of feeling among relatives who got in touch to ask if we could commemorate the anniversary in some way.

“It’s quite unusual given the length of time and that the crash actually happened at Heathrow. But because of the sheer number of Edinburgh people who were on board we felt it was right to respond.”

The BEA Vickers Vanguard flight, call sign Echo Echo, took off from Edinburgh with one of the airline’s most experienced pilots, Captain Norman H Shackell, at the controls.

However, by the time it approached Heathrow in the early hours of the morning, thick fog had descended, hampering the landing.

Capt Shackell made two attempts to land. When he tried a third time, the plane smashed into the runway.

The burning aircraft then skidded for around three-quarters of a mile, witnessed by shocked relatives and friends awaiting its arrival.

Reports at the time told how the blaze melted the runway and the plane’s tail fin had “snapped off like a child’s toy”.

Around half of the passengers on board came from Edinburgh. They included John F Stewart, 59, a city councillor who was flying to London to inspect a sports centre.

Others who lost their lives were first-time flyer Isabella Clairmount, from Newhaven, 
who was travelling south on holiday with her daughter, Catherine Rye, 26, and 18-month-old grandson Simon.

The tragedy is one of Scotland’s worst aviation disasters.

Aviation historian Keith McCloskey, who has written a history of Edinburgh Airport, said it was unusual for a book of condolence to be opened so long after an incident.

“It might be more expected for a moment’s silence or some form of recognition to take place at the airport where the crash occurred,” he said.

“But this was such an Edinburgh tragedy. On board were mainly Scots heading to London to work or visit relatives.

“It was a terrible tragedy for many families.”

An investigation into the crash later suggested the crew was tired and disoriented by the conditions. They appeared to lack experience of overshooting in fog and had relied too much on instruments which may have failed to provide accurate information.

newsen@edinburghnews.com