Daily Telegraph April 12th 1973. By MAURICE WEAVER & CHRISTOPHER BRAMWELL
100 children left motherless by air crash
ALMOST 100 children in four Somerset villages were left motherless by Tuesday’s crash of the Vanguard airliner near Basle, it was believed last night. Most of the 105 victims of the disaster were members of women’s clubs in the villages of Axbridge, Cheddar, Congresbury and Wrington. Although an official list of the dead had not been issued, it appeared last night that Abridge (pop. 1,200) had lost 14 of its women and children, and Cheddar (pop. 3,000) had lost 22.
It was not known how many of the 47 people who came from Congresbury and Wrington to Ladies’ join the Guild Axbridge day-trip to Switzerland had died. Families in the area rallied round yesterday to look after the motherless children, some of whose fathers had not yet had the heart to tell them what had happened.
At Axbridge, the school near the town’s 13th century church, was opened to provide a play centre for those youngsters whose fathers were too grief-stricken to cope. About 12 husbands waited at Bristol Airport to hear whether their wives were among the dead. Somehow, they said, they felt they were nearer to them at the airport than sitting alone at home. Others trudged the streets of their villages or stood silently in the bars of their local pubs, waiting for news.
Last night husbands and other relatives of the victims flew to Basle to face the harrowing task of identifying the bodies. For some it was a journey of hope as they clung desperately to the chance that their wives. mothers and daughters might be among the handful of unidentified survivors. But for most it was the start of an ordeal, begun in the certainty that only grief lay at its end. Red-eyed and silent they filed aboard two chartered Dan Air jets on the same flight path to Basle taken only 34 hours earlier by the ill-fated Invicta Vanguard with its 145 passengers and crew.
Only minutes before the first of the aircraft took off, Mr Arnold Hughes, a grocer from Cheddar, was told that his wife, Thelma. was alive. He broke down and was helped onto the plane by one of the clergymen accompanying the party. In the four villages of grief the people were still hardly able to grasp the fact that the flower of their local womanhood would never return from what began as a happy continental shopping spree.
Most of the victims had been active community workers, the people who had kept their villages alive. People like Mrs Brenda Hopkins, from Abridge, of whom it was said: “She was very socially conscious. You could call on her at any time. She was always ready to help out. We have lost many like her.” The Rector of Axbridge, the Rev. Anthony Martin, said: “The four communities will never be the same again in our lifetime.” He gazed down the main street of Abridge, deserted of local people and with its honey- coloured houses silent. We have lost our brightest and best-liked young women; they were the pillars of village life. They can never be replaced.
In Cheddar, the Rev. Ronald Denman, 53, snatched two hours’ sleep before joining the relatives flying to Basle. He had spent 24 hours comforting parishioners. During his absence last night a confirmation service for children from Cheddar, Axbridge and surrounding villages went ahead as planned. There were open spaces in the pews where victims of the disaster should have sat. The vicar’s wife. Mrs Jean Denman, said: “Most of our people, including those families in which mothers have been lost have said the service should go on.”
In Churchill Green, a few miles from the communities hit by the tragedy, Mrs Marion Warren, 34, mother of two children, described the unbelievable nightmare” she had three weeks ago, caused her to cancel her booking on the Vanguard flight and to sell her £16:50 ticket for £8. She said yesterday “I had a dream during which I was in a plane with all my friends looking down on the scenery. Then there was a snowstorm, couldn’t see anything for snow.” Then the plane crashed into some huge trees and it felt as though was looking down on my friends as their bodies were laid out in the snow. I woke up in a cold sweat.” Mrs Warren said that she did not tell anyone of the dream until after she had returned her ticket to Mrs Beryl Batt, organiser of the group from Congresbury. and said she would be satisfied to get only half her money back.
Members of the parish councils of the four villages agreed yesterday that offers of financial help will go to four separate funds, one for each parish. Mr John Todd. chairman of Abridge Rural District Council, said: “So far we have received about £1,000. The money will be used in the first instance to relieve immediate financial need and afterwards for the long-term benefit those involved and their families.