Monday, 3 March 2014

Stockport's forgotten four: Victims of the second deadliest single plane crash ever

On March 3 1974, a Turkish Airlines flight crashed outside Paris killing all 346 on board - the second deadliest single-plane crash ever.

Among the Ermenonville Air Disaster victims - including Japanese businessmen, fashion models and sportsmen - were Stockport’s forgotten four.

Robert Breton, 33, Stephen Backhouse, 43, Sidney Waterhouse, 48, and Christopher Kendall, 33, were Davenport Rugby Club members who had travelled to France for an England match.

Accountant Robert, a player for more than 10 years, had been club treasurer for three seasons.

As match secretary, Stockport’s Sidney was a well-known character at the club who also ran the line as a touch judge.

Stephen, an insurance broker from Disley, was a fourth team player and a key mentor to younger players.

Christopher, from Macclesfied, was MD of a Wilmslow motor firm and the club’s rep for Cheshire County Rugby Union.

With 12 children between them, these were the men who kept the club running - the team’s heart and soul.

And yet 40 years later, there is little to remember the four other than a Sidney Waterhouse trophy.

Dominic Waterhouse, 22, grandson of Sidney and now a player for the third team of Stockport Rugby Club - Davenport RUFC’s reinvention - agrees that for the wider world, their memories have been lost in time.

He said: “Ask any young player at the club now and they wouldn’t have a clue. There’s nothing at the club to commemorate it. Perhaps because there were only four of them. I think there should be a plaque – nothing too over the top, just to say it’s been 40 years and their names.”

Devoted to wife Leah, who sadly died three weeks ago, Sidney perished just six months before their 25th anniversary. Their daughter Louise was at college when she heard news of the crash on the radio.

She said: “I wasn’t aware my dad was on it but when the message came through three times it suddenly struck me it was possible he could have been. I phoned home and spoke to mum.”

At first, her mum thought Sidney had landed on an earlier flight and gone straight to the club, but the horrifying truth soon emerged.

Louise added: “When he wasn’t at the club I just knew that was it, I knew he’d been on that plane. I got a lift home and my brothers and sisters ran down the drive in tears. It was devastating - your father goes away on the Friday and never comes back. He’d dropped me off at college before he went and afterwards I wondered if I could have stopped him going. He loved the club and his friends.”

Shortly after the crash the pals were remembered at services in England and in France, where a mass burial was held.

They were among a number of players who had crossed the Channel for a Five Nations France-England match the previous day,

Robert had taken the place of another club member unable to use his ticket.

All had hoped to be back at the club ground at Headlands Road, Bramhall, in time for Davenport’s jubilee game against Cheltenham that day, but a strike at Heathrow Airport grounded British Airways planes so they switched to the ill-fated Flight 981 from Istanbul.

It was decided that those with family and children should get the seats - and the four men were given priority.

Fellow passengers included 17 rugby players from Bury St Edmunds, six British fashion models, 48 Japanese bank management trainees, plus passengers from a dozen other countries.

The English rugby team had, by chance, taken an Air France Boeing 727 instead.

After take-off, turning west for London, and passing over the town of Meaux, controllers picked up a transmission from the plane that its pressurisation and overspeed warnings had been triggered.

Captain Nejat Berkoz was heard to say ‘the fuselage has burst’. It disappeared from radar shortly afterwards.

The wreckage was later found in the Ermenonville Forest. Six passengers had ejected over Saint-Pathus, where they were found in a turnip field by a farmer. The plane had disintegrated.

Of the 346 on board, only 40 bodies were identifiable. Nine passengers were never identified.

An investigation revealed the rear cargo hold hatch of the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 had failed in flight, decompressing the cargo area.

The resulting air pressure difference caused a section of the cabin floor to rip open and blow out the hatch along with the six passengers seats above.

Martin Wroe, 67, a first team player at the time and now president of Cheshire RFU, said: “It was a very very sad day. We played our jubilee match against Cheltenham and afterwards Leah Waterhouse, Sidney’s wife, called to see if the men had arrived at the club. It was then it all started to unravel. The club was in shock. We talked about a memorial but never made one, the widows had other things to think about I suppose. But there should be something at the club for these men.”

Richard Hope, 57, a vice-president of Stockport Rugby Club, said: “Clubs of our size are run and live on the hard work of no more than a dozen people and I can only imagine now 40 years later the impact of losing a third of our key members at one time, what impact that must have had. I’m one of the few members who remembers what transpired here. We’re as bad as anybody - if we don’t mark it today tomorrow it’s history and unless somebody has the determination to make sure it’s not forgotten, it is.”

Monday 03 March 2014

continue reading

50 years later, survivor of deadliest car crash in the US shares his story

Isidro Hernandez Tovar lived for more than five decades with the searing memory of a crash in the Salinas Valley that killed 32 of his colleagues, all farmworkers who died when a freight train collided with their bus.

But only now is he sharing his story.

The 1963 accident on the U.S. 101 near Chualar, which was considered the worst traffic-related calamity in California history, happened when Hernandez Tovar was just 19.

The now 70-year-old Hernandez Tovar decided to talk with the newspaper after reading an article about a man thought to be the accident's lone survivor, The Monterey Herald reported.

That afternoon in September, Hernandez Tovar said he and 59 workers finished their shift picking celery and piled on to the bus, really just a flatbed truck with aluminum siding. The last thing he remembered was the feel of the train's impact. When he woke up, he saw bodies covered with tarps.

"There was some light trickling in, and I remember seeing somebody moving," he said. "I kept walking and when I couldn't walk anymore, I sat by the edge of the field. Next day at the hospital I couldn't even write a letter."

Hernandez Tovar was released from the hospital nearly two months later. He later returned his native Jalisco, Mexico.

On Thursday, Hernandez Tovar, his wife and son went back to the site of the crash and spoke with local researchers documenting the history of the bracero program, which brought guest workers from Mexico to the United States from 1942 to 1964.

The accident was commemorated with a small white cardboard cross, lettered "RIP 32 braceros. Sept. 17, 1963. 4:25 PM."

"Here is where I was born again," he said.

Hernandez Tovar recalled how he enrolled in the bracero program, under which an estimated 2.5 million Mexican laborers helped stem domestic labor shortages.

"Frankly, they treated you like a little animal, they sent you from here to there," he said. "Three of us from my town came to Salinas."

For years, Hernandez Tovar had been hungry for news about the accident.

On his visit to the site, he finally saw the commemoration activists had sought: a formal sign dedicating a stretch of highway to his co-workers who perished. At a dedication ceremony, among the honorees was Salvador Flores Barragan, the only other known survivor of the Chualar crash.

"I've always thought about the event, but I lost touch," Hernandez Tovar said. "Until now, when my son encouraged me to look things up. He said, 'Dad, you're part of history.'"

This September marked the 50th Anniversary of the crash, and there's been renewed interest in the event especially among immigration rights actvists who sucessfully lobbied to get a stretch of Highway 101 dedicated as the Bracero Memorial HighWay.

The dedication was held in September, and today there's a sign marking the crash where Tovar found nothing two years ago. The sign reads: 'RIP 32 braceros. Sept. 17, 1963. 4:25 PM.'

On Thursday, Tovar traveled back to the accident site with his wife and son to talk with researchers about the accident and his part in the Bracero program.

He also appeared with Flores Barragan, the only other survivor of the crash, at a ceremony honoring 10 former braceros at Stanford university the same day.

Monday 03 March 2014

continue reading

Four die, 7 go missing as boat capsizes near Indo-Nepal border

At least four persons, including a child were killed and seven others went missing when an overloaded boat capsized near the Indo-Nepal border, police said today.

The ill-fated boat capsized last night near Halauna Ghat of Kailali district when the passengers were returning after shopping from a nearby Indian town of Tikunia in Uttar Pradesh, they said.

According to police, four bodies were recovered from Halauna Ghat of Lalboji-4.

The boat, heading to Kailali from Beluwa, Tikunia in Uttar Pradesh had 22 passengers on board.

Some people survived the accident as they managed to swim to the shore, SP Mohan Joshi, Kailali police chief said.

Four persons were rescued by India's Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) and Nepal police, media reports said.

Police and local people have launched search operation to find the missing people and the ill-fated boat.

According to inspector Lal Bahadur Saud of Bhajani Area Police Office in Kailali, the accident occurred near Halaunaghat while the boat was returning with people who had gone to Tikaniya bazaar in India to make some purchases. Police suspect the accident might have occurred due to overload or increased water level in the river.

Monday 03 March 2014

continue reading