50 years after Basel tragedy that devastated North Somerset

50 years after Basel tragedy that devastated North Somerset

By Phil Hill www.somersetcountygazette.co.uk April 2023

NORTH Somerset is preparing to remember the 108 passengers who died following a plane crash in Switzerland 50 years ago next Monday (April 10).

The tragic loss of life occurred as the pilots became disorientated in a snow storm as they attempted to land in Basel on a day trip.

The darkest day in the area’s history resulted in the death of 20 passengers from Congresbury; eight from Wrington; 23 from Axbridge; 15 from Cheddar; seven from the Redhill area; 21 from Bristol; two from Uphill; three from Westbury-sub-Mendip; and one each from Claverham, Winscombe, Draycott, Wedmore, Weston-super-Mare and Draycott. Another person from an unknown location also died.

Hours after setting off from Bristol Airport, the aircraft clipped a wooded area in Jura and crashed in the hamlet of Herrenmatt, ten miles south of its destination.

It somersaulted and burst into flames, killing all but 39 of those on board, two of whom died later in hospital.

A week later, 106 coffins were flown into Bristol and taken to RAF Locking, near Weston-super-Mare, from where they were transported across Somerset.

Rosemarie Pitts, now aged 75, of Congresbury, lost five members of her family – her parents Maija-Liisa and Ivor, her brother John, 21, aunt Aileen and her daughter Hazel, nine.

Rosemarie and her cousin Jacki Sutton want to create a permanent memorial to the loved ones they lost and the other members of the community who perished.

Following the disaster, many of the 20 from the village who died were buried in St Andrew’s churchyard. A sundial memorial donated to the village at the time was stolen two years later, while memorial benches donated ten years ago have been vandalised.

Rosemarie said: “A plaque was also installed, but it’s looking very worn now.

“We decided it would be a nice idea to get a fresh plaque with the names of the 20 villagers from Congresbury who died that day.

“And there’s a memorial garden with roses and benches being created ahead of a memorial service at St Andrew’s Church, at 11am on Easter Monday (April 10), exactly 50 years after the tragedy.

“It’s the biggest tragedy to have affected this part of the world. So many people from local villages died. One woman lost 11 members of her family. The community has never been quite the same since.”

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