Air crash tragedy remembered

EXACTLY three decades after an horrific plane crash killed 18 members of Bury Rugby Club, reporter DAVE GOODERHAM looks back at the tragedy and speaks to people whose lives were changed forever.

EXACTLY three decades after an horrific plane crash killed 18 members of Bury Rugby Club, reporter DAVE GOODERHAM looks back at the tragedy and speaks to people whose lives were changed forever.

IT was a day that would be firmly and darkly etched on the hearts and minds of everyone connected with Bury Rugby Club, their families and loved ones.

March 3, 1974, saw 18 members of the club - many with flourishing careers ahead of them - and a total of 345 people perish in the worst plane crash the world had ever seen.

Likened to the Munich air disaster when eight players from Manchester United died in 1958, it caused incomparable and overwhelming grief in the Suffolk town and the rugby community.

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The players, staff and colleagues at the club had visited France in good spirits - taking in a Five Nations international and preparing for a friendly with a local side - having just won the Suffolk Knockout Cup.

But after their friendly scheduled for the day of the crash was postponed, a series of events would ultimately lead to the death of 18 young and much loved men.

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Upon hearing their match had been called off, 18 of the 21-strong party opted to take an earlier flight on the ill-fated Turkish Airlines DC-10 as a two-day strike at Heathrow involving 400 ground engineers had halted any British flights.

The three other players, John Cousins, vice chairman Ron Freeman and Albert Spriggins, decided to stay on and visit an agricultural show in Paris.

The Turkish airliner flew out from Orly Airport, about 20 miles from the French capital, but shortly after take-off, the plane crashed in a forest killing all 345 people on board, nearly 200 of them British.

The crash caused widespread devastation with debris spreading over a wide area of Ermenonville Forest - a favourite picnic spot for Parisians.

One onlooker, who witnessed the horror from a nearby picnic site, said: "It [the plane] fell behind some trees. There was an enormous sheet of flame and a huge cloud of black smoke."

Nearly 1,000 rescuers worked at the crash site with reports of six bodies and parts of the plane's fuselage found nine miles from the crash site and several seats from the aircraft four miles away.

Although sabotage was first feared, an investigating team, including American and British observers, identified the cause as decompression following the failure of a cargo door, which was torn off in flight.

The disaster was described at the time as the world's worst air crash and the mammoth and painstaking task of identifying victims lasted months.

The club was asked to send information, including dental records, to France while more locally, the outpouring of grief was never more evident than when more than 2,500 mourners attended a memorial service at St Edmundsbury Cathedral and also St Mary's Church where the service was relayed via a close circuit television.

Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, Dr Leslie Brown, said in his address: "There are those here to whom the shock came as a sudden, unexpected numbing blow, impossible at first to believe.

"We realise that the numbness is now followed by pain and anxiety and loneliness. The whole county and many beyond feel with you."

An Air Disaster Fund was set up by town mayor Robert Elliott raising almost £10,000 within just four days and eventually totalling £128,000.

The town united in raising money with collections made among farmers and merchants in Bury Corn Exchange and market while auctioneers Lacy Scott & Sons asked local farmers to donate livestock for a special gift sale.

Street collections were organised by Round Tables in Bury, Newmarket and Stowmarket while Ipswich Town Football Club donated raffle prizes to boost the funds.

Mourners had to wait until more than two months after the crash before a mass burial was held at Thiais , near Orly airport, attended by more than 1,200 people including 80 people from Suffolk.

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