Sheffield families still waiting for apology over Manchester air disaster on 30th anniversary of tragedy

A picture of the damaged British Airtours plane following the disaster
A picture of the damaged British Airtours plane following the disaster

Families of 10 people from Sheffield killed in one of Britain’s worst aeroplane disasters are still waiting for an apology – as they mark the 30th anniversary of the tragedy today.

The Manchester air disaster on August 22, 1985, resulted in the deaths of 55 people after a blaze broke out in the engine of a British Airtours jet that had been due to fly to Corfu.

Most of the victims died from inhaling toxic smoke and many were impeded from escaping by the layout of the seats and the narrow widths of the exits.

Passengers were left trapped as flames engulfed the rear of the plane.

One of those from Sheffield who died was 18-year-old Sarah Beckett.

Her father William, who helped with wife Linda to found an air safety campaign group in the wake of the tragedy, said today: “They have got no excuse not to apologise.

Sarah Beckett who died in the Manchester air disaster 30 years ago. Picture: Andrew Roe

Sarah Beckett who died in the Manchester air disaster 30 years ago. Picture: Andrew Roe

“There was complete chaos and a lack of resources at the time.”

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William and Linda Beckett lost their daughter Sarah in the Manchester air disaster 30 years ago. Picture: Andrew Roe

William and Linda Beckett lost their daughter Sarah in the Manchester air disaster 30 years ago. Picture: Andrew Roe

Survivors and the relatives of those who died eventually successfully sued US aircraft engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney.

The disaster led to a host of changes in air safety procedures.

Neither the airport nor British Airways, which operated Airtours for charter flights, have formally apologised, but both have expressed their sympathies to the victims of families and survivors ahead of a special ceremony in Manchester today.

Among those from Sheffield who were killed were couple Thomas and Sarah Bennett, aged 69 and 68, from Norfolk Park, their son Barry, 46, and his wife Mavis, 47.

Mother and daughter Rita and Joanne Lawrence, aged 38 and 15, from Frecheville, also died, while Rita’s husband John and son Chris survived.

Husband and wife David and Patricia Shaw, aged 46 and 45, from Intake, were killed, as was Anne Lee, 49, from Nether Edge.

Also killed was air stewardess Sharon Ford, 23 from Chesterfield, who was posthumously awarded a Queen’s Gallantry Medal for her actions in attempting to save lives.

A BA spokeswoman said: “Our thoughts are very much with the families and friends of the passengers and crew who died in this tragic event 30 years ago.

“We understand their continuing sense of loss, and also the difficulties faced by those who survived the incident and have had to live with the memories.

“The safety of our customers, crews and aircraft is our number one priority at all times.

“British Airways has always been, and remains absolutely committed to, achieving the highest possible safety standards.”

Ken O’Toole, managing director at Manchester Airport, said: “Our thoughts, sympathy and sorrow are still very much with those who lost their lives, were injured, their relatives, and the many brave individuals involved in the rescue operation.”

“The stories of heroism and stoicism that have emerged from the horror of that day humble us all, and are never far from the airport’s thoughts.”

It has been announced today that a new memorial to the victims of the Manchester air disaster is to be created.

Details of the plans for a new memorial at Manchester Airport have been announced as a special ceremony involving more than 250 people takes place at the site today.

Currently, the disaster is only commemorated at the airport with a plaque paid for by the families and a small memorial garden with a tree.

But airport bosses have now agreed to work with victims’ families and survivors to create a more prominent memorial.

Mr O’Toole said: “We feel that it is important to work with survivors, relatives and colleagues to ensure that all those affected by the tragedy continue to be remembered.

“With this in mind, we are keen to bring together these groups to develop plans for the design and installation of a new memorial at Manchester Airport that will commemorate those who lost their lives.

“In the coming weeks, we will be contacting the various parties involved with a view to beginning this process.”

As part of today’s commemorations, all take-offs and landings at Manchester Airport are ceasing for one minute at midday.