New memorial for victims of runway tragedy

How the Observer reported the incident
How the Observer reported the incident
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A couple from Wigan will be remembered when a new memorial is unveiled to the victims of the 1985 Manchester Airport disaster.

Brian and Sheila Taylor, from Shevington, were among the 53 passengers and two crew members who perished after a British Airtours 737 jet, en-route to Corfu, became engulfed by fire on the runway at Ringway.

An image of the aftermath of the 1985 Manchester Airport disaster

An image of the aftermath of the 1985 Manchester Airport disaster

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The couple, of Woodview, had been on the plane with their daughter Melanie and her then-boyfriend Ken Tweddle, who survived the fireball but were later treated in hospital for shock and smoke inhalation.

Another local, John Hughes, of Liverpool Road, Haydock, died from his injuries shortly after the incident, which also claimed the lives of St Helens couple Brenda and Maurice Allmark and their 11-year-old son Steven.

Until now the disaster, which led to several significant changes in air travel such as fire-resistant seat covers, had only been marked by a plaque on a tree at the airport.

Plans have now been put in place for a 16-foot high memorial, to be located nearby and unveiled during a remembrance service on August 22.

An engine caught fire while the plane was on the runway, forcing the pilot to abandon the take-off and make for an exit lane.

But an inquiry by the Air Accident Investigation Branch found that a prevailing wind caused the flames from the stricken engine to spread along the fuselage, with a number of the deaths being attributed to smoke inhalation as passengers made for the exits.

The then Wigan MP Roger Stott also raised concerns about the quantities of foam carried by airport fire engines to deal with such catastrophes.

Within days the politician had written to Transport Secretary Nicholas Ridley urging the Civil Aviation Authority to conduct an urgent review into firefighting provisions.

It was only in 2015, on the 30th anniversary of the fire, that British Airways and Manchester Airport offered a full apology to survivors.

Airport chief executive Andrew Cowan has acknoweledged the disaster has a lasting impact on air travel in Manchester.

He added: “It is only right that there is a suitable memorial.”

Several key safety changes were made as a result of the tragedy, prompted by an Air Accident Branch inquiry.

Experts said aircraft must be positioned with the fuselage downwind of any fire outbreak.

Firefighting techniques were overhauled and fire-resistant cabin materials installed.

Onboard water spray systems were developed and unobstructed access provided to exits.

It also recommended that senior cabin crew should be placed around aircraft.