Daily Telegraph April 11th 1973 By Terence Shaw, in Hochwald, near Basle.
Day-trip wives and mothers killed as plane crashes in blizzard
106 DIE IN SHOPPERS’ SPECIAL
Rescuers brave 3ft drifts
MORE than 100 Britons, most of them women from four Somerset villages, died yesterday as the Vanguard airliner taking them on £16 day shopping trip to Switzerland crashed into a mountain near Basle in blinding snowstorm.
The women. including at least 50 young mothers, were members of clubs in the villages of Abridge, Congresbury, Cheddar and Yatton. They left their homes just before 6 a.m. to join the charter flight from Bristol to Basle. At 10 a.m. the plane, call-sign Oscar Papa, overshot the Basle runway in a heavy snow- storm. As it was turning to make a second landing attempt, a wing touched a tree and the plane crashed into 3ft snowdrifts on a mountainside at Hochwald.
Visibility at Basle was restricted by driving snow, but was still adequate for landing, said a statement issued by the airport. One theory last night was that the pilot abandoned his plan to land at Basle and was heading for Zurich when he crashed.
Because of the blizzard rescuers did not reach the crash scene for nearly two hours. And it was not until last night that the full toll was announced as 106 dead out of 145 passengers and crew. Among the passengers were 63 members of the Women’s Guild at Axbridge (population 1.200), who should have gone to Basle last week, but the trip was postponed until yesterday.
The pilot of the plane was Capt. Ivor Terry. of Avenue Gardens, Cliftonville. Kent. His co-pilot was Capt. Dorman. The survivors, who included two stewardesses, a 15-year-old girl and a youth aged 17, were taken to hospital, in the area.
More than a dozen people in the tail section of the plane escaped uninjured and were able to walk from the wreckage. I was the first British correspondent to arrive at the scene, which is 1,900ft above sea level. All that was visible of the aircraft was the red and white upturned tail section which had broken off from the other wreckage.
Caught fire The aircraft, owned by the Invicta charter company, plunged into had off a forest, cutting the tops of fir trees and scattering wreckage, including wheels, engines and propellers, into a clearing mountainside. on Part the steep of wreckage had caught fire. the In a snowstorm, Swiss police, soldiers and firemen were dig- ging with picks and shovels through the tangle of twisted metal cables and seats, searching for the dead and their belongings. I saw six bodies removed from the wreckage and carried to a small clearing where they were laid out with two other rows of sheets dead under canvas which were soon covered with falling snow. Shoes, watches, a red purse, clothing and packets of duty- free cigarettes and other reminders of the tragedy by were carried rescue workers to another pile beside the dead.
As I struggled with medical teams through the deep snow from the village of Hochwald, a column of ambulances pulled by tractors and Land-Rovers were evacuating the injured. Later I spoke to three of the survivors after they had been given first aid in a farmhouse only 400 yards from the crash.
Hanging upside down
Mrs Shireen Hart, 22, of Parkfield. Axbridge, near Bristol, who was uninjured said: The flight became very bumpy and lots of people were being sick as the plane tried to land at Basle. The next thing we knew was when it hit the trees and the mountainside and we were hanging upside down in our seat belts.’ Mrs Pamela Churches. 21, also of Parkfield. Axbridge, who had only minor injuries, said: Twenty or 30 of us managed to get out the wreckage. We did so as fast as we could and got as far from the plane as possible because of the fire.”
Together with Mrs Long. Nellie of Hallgate Way, Axbridge she stood in the snow for nearly two hours before help arrived. We were in this wood covered in deep snow and we did not know which way to go.’ said Mrs Churches. We tried to light a fire. but we couldn’t do so because of the snow. Then, after a long time, we heard a dog barking. He was with a little boy and the boy ran to get help.’
The plane was found by 14 year-old Erich Vogtli, from a farmhouse in Herrenmatt, where many of the survivors were taken. His mother told me: ” We heard this plane coming in low, and we thought at first it would take the tiles off the roof. Then a few moments later ‘we heard a loud crunch as the plane plunged into the forest. But there was no explosion, My husband telephoned the fire brigade and police in Basle, but they said no plane was missing. Then my son went to look for the wreckage with the dog.”
Killed by fire
The first doctor to arrive at the scene, Dr Walter Marti, from Muttenz, said he had driven up from his house in his sports car and then got a lift from a farmer in a Land-Rover with snow chains. When they got to the plane they managed to get 13 of the injured out of the wreckage. He said they found four people who seemed as if they had died in the fire.
Because ambulances could not reach the scene of the crash through the deep snow, the injured had first to be taken in Land-Rovers and on tractors to the nearest farmhouses. Cdr Hans Suter, head of the Basle police, said they had been greatly hindered in rescue operations by the blizzard and thick snow.
A Hochwald farmer, Mr Otto Schaer, said he heard 46 a very loud noise of a plane low over his house, followed by what sounded like an explosion. He telephoned police and then went out to look for the plane. Mr Schaer said: After searching for about an hour heard shouts. But, because of the poor visibility it was difficult for me to tell where they were coming from. I was confused by the echoes of the shouts. ” After one more hour I found the wreckage in a gully and as I approached it survivors were climbing out.