Daily Telegraph April 11th 1973 By Christopher Bramwell
By AS details of the Swiss air crash and names of the dead filtered through, people in the four Somerset villages from which most of the victims came were numbed last night.
In Abridge, whose population is only about 1,200. it was feared that over 50 young mothers, some accompanied by their children, had died. Cheddar’s population is about 2,000 and 3,000 live in Congresury and in Yatton.
All the villages were mourning in last night, At Axbridge a special service was being held in the 12th century church of St John the Baptist by the Rector, the Rev. Anthony Martin. During the day, Mr Martin opened his rectory as a communications centre.
A party of 63 members and their relatives, of Axbridge Ladies’ Guild. went on the fight, together with five members from Cheddar Mothers’ Club. They booked their seats through Mendip Travel, of Yatton, and paid £16-50 each for a one-day shopping and sight-seeing visit to Basle. Also on board were 47 people, again mainly young wives, from Congresbury.
The trip was one of a number which had been organised by local women’s clubs over the last few years. The flight should have left last Tuesday, but was postponed for a week because the original charter company ran into financial difficulties. One of Axbridge’s two hotels, The Lamb, was closed last night because Mrs Queenie Fowler, the licensee’s wife, was aboard the plane. Public houses in the village were also in darkness as villagers gathered in the winding streets to seek news. Normally, said one, the village was alive with tourists and local people going to and from social events.
The one phone call to reach Abridge from the disaster area early last night contained a message, for Mr Robert Wharton that his wife Maude, 52, was in hospital. Mr Wharton said: ” There was no news of my son. He shouldn’t have been on the trip. Somebody dropped out and he took their place.’ The trip from Axbridge was organised by Mrs Brenda Hopkins, secretary of the Ladies’ Guild. She left her husband, Mr Edward Hopkins, a builder, at home to look after their four school-aged children, a girl and, three boys. The Axbridge group met in the village square shortly after 6 a.m. yesterday. They were joined by the group from Cheddar aboard a coach for the 10-mile journey to Lulsgate Airport, Bristol. There they met the other main party, from Congresbury.
Many of the 35 people from Congresbury on the plane were women skittles players, members of the village’s Memorial Hall Social Club. Their trip was organised by Mrs Beryl Batt, of Stonewall Drive, Congresbury. Her son, Mr Philip Batt, 21, a civil servant, said: “Practically my whole family were on board, eight members of it.” On the flight were his parents, his grandmother, Mrs Gertrude Groves, two aunts, two nieces and a nephew, all from the village.
A 76-year-old passenger was Mrs Florence Durman, from the Ship and Castle Inn. Her daughter, Mrs Millicent Davis, and Mr Davis run the inn. In tears, Mrs Davis said last night: My mother went on all these trips. She just loved the adventure.” One skittles player who should have been on the trip, but changed her mind, is Mrs Connie Wookey, 38, of Mill Lane, Congresbury. She said last night: I had five cousins on the plane and would have gone, with my husband, Bryan, and our son David, aged 13, but I changed my mind about going at the last moment. Don’t, ask me why. I had a funny feeling. There was a lot of confusion over the journey. So much had gone wrong that I decided not to go.’ A woman who should have been on the flight was serving drinks last night to weeping relatives and other people waiting for news at Bristol Airport.
Mrs Madge Pye said she had a premonition and a “feeling that the flight wasn’t worth it,” and so cancelled her booking on Sunday night. Among the waiting relatives was Miss Linda Gill, who had five relatives on the aircraft. They were her mother, Allieen, sister Hazel, her uncle, Mr Ivor Gill, his wife Marie, and their son. They were all from Congresbury. Also in the Congresbury party was Mr Bill Price, the local undertaker, and his wife. Mr Trevor Cleeves, whose wife Arleen, was also on the plane, sat comforting his two sons, Mark eight and Brian, 11. Another husband, who had been baby-sitting for the day, changed his baby son’s nappy as he waited at the airport.
Offers of help poured into Axbridge families last in night from neighbouring villages, to look after whose mothers children were on the flight. Mr Martin, Rector of Axbridge, said: I am afraid that as a result of this terrible tragedy many of our young children will be orphaned.’