Radio review: Reliving an air disaster that took so many mothers

Nuala McCann

The Aftermath: After the Plane Went Down Radio 4 BBC iPlayer

So many mothers were lost, so many children left to grow up mourning them.

It was April 1973. A plane crashed in Switzerland and the shockwaves rocked small rural villages in Somerset.

On a day 45 years ago, about 139 people, mostly women, boarded a plane at Bristol airport for a day’s shopping in Basel.


There was a snow storm and, on the plane’s second attempt to land, it hit trees and crashed into a hillside. The death toll was 108. Thirty seven people survived.

Presenter Alan Dein gives a voice to ordinary people who have lived through extraordinary experiences.

Moreover, he gives them the space to tell their stories.

He paints vivid pictures. He takes us with him back to the graveyard in Axbridge where 13 identical graves stand, side by side.

He introduces us to David Besley, a 17-year-old boy when he boarded the plane with his uncle and his mother to do a spot of shopping.

His story of what it was like to survive a plane crash was compelling.

There was a snow storm, the plane hit air pockets... “It was scary, but funny, you’re lovin it”... like a theme park ride, said David.

Then, he gave us the shudders and the groans of engines – he gave us the bangs and the grinds and the whirrs as the plane hit the tops of trees and crashed into a mountain.

He managed to help rescue his mother, an 11 year old boy, an air hostess... but not his uncle.

The recording stopped as he stopped - punched in the gut by the force of the memory of screams and crying and finding his dead uncle.

And there he was, deep in the snow, with a broken leg and one shoe, in a shirt and trousers, struggling off to try and get help.

In any major disaster, the reporters and the tv cameras come and picture the drama and fade away.

But here is Alan Dein telling a story about a disaster I cannot remember.

He offers the survivors like David Besley and the relatives time to look back over 45 years and name what they have lost.

A woman still nurses the pain of a missing mother – someone who ought to have been there as she grew up but was not.

One woman lost 11 members of her family in the crash, including her mother and father.

So many of those lost were mothers. So many children were left with a gaping hole in their childhoods.

This is just one in a series of “fall out” stories which includes the Harold Shipman murders and the Ibrox stadium disaster... well worth a listen.

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