Hochwald commemorates 108 fatalities

Hochwald commemorates 108 fatalities

New report in Swiss News Website www.bazonline.ch – Translated from German 10th April 2023

At a memorial service on Monday morning, authorities, rescuers and relatives remembered the victims of the crash of a British plane 50 years ago.

The accident, which claimed 108 lives, is considered the worst air crash on Swiss soil. Among the invited guests at the ceremony at the memorial site not far from the crash site near the hamlet of Herrenmatt were Solothurn Cantonal Councillor Remo Ankli, the British Ambassador to Switzerland, James Squire, and the Director of Euroairport, Matthias Suhr. Numerous relatives of the victims also attended.

For the English visitors, the meeting with helpers and the long-standing contacts with people from the region were important, the municipality said. The relatives still feel connected to the village population and many helpers from the region because of the large-scale operation at that time.

The Vickers Vanguard 952 crashed into the mountain forest near Hochwald on 10 April 1973 after a failed landing approach to Basel-Mulhouse airport. 108 people died, 37 survived.

Nasty weather on the day of the accident

On the day of the accident, fog, snow and strong winds prevailed as the plane, which had taken off from Bristol, England, approached Basel Mulhouse airport. The crew of the aircraft with four propeller turbines reported to approach control at 09:49. However, the aircraft was unable to land and took off.

After that, the crew apparently lost their bearings. A warning from the traffic controller at the airport that the plane was not on approach to land went unanswered. Shortly afterwards, disaster struck 16 kilometres south of Basel airport: During a second take-off attempt, the aircraft flew into a wooded slope near the hamlet of “Herrenmatt” in Hochwald, just below the edge of the slope.

Day trip turned into a journey to death

The journey to Basel, intended as a day trip to the Swiss Sample Fair, ended in death in the snow and cold for 104 of the 139 passengers. The two pilots and two other crew members also lost their lives. 37 people survived: they had been in the rear part of the aircraft, which did not shatter on impact.

The Federal Bureau of Aircraft Accident Investigation said that navigation errors were the cause of the accident. However, the investigation report also spoke of technical deficiencies in the radionavigation equipment and insufficient cooperation between the pilots.

Snow hampered rescue work

The rescue work after the accident was difficult. A stewardess, who had not been injured, immediately took care of the injured. Soon, however, numerous helpers from the surrounding area were on the scene, who initially took the survivors to surrounding farms, as the rescue vehicles got stuck in the snow, which was unusually high for the time of year.

One year after the accident, a memorial was inaugurated at the crash site. This was followed by commemorations on the 10th, 20th, 25th and 30th anniversaries, each with a large number of guests from England.

Most serious air accident in Switzerland

The Hochwald air disaster is the most serious aviation accident Switzerland has ever experienced. In 1963, 80 people were killed when a Caravelle crashed in Dürrenäsch, Aargau. When a Swissair plane crashed in Würenlingen AG in 1970 after a bomb attack, 48 people were killed.

46 people died when an Alitalia DC-9 crashed into the Stadlerberg on approach to Zurich-Kloten in 1990. 45 people were also killed when a Bulgarian plane crashed at Zurich-Kloten Airport in 1971.

In November 2001, 24 people died and 9 survived when a Crossair aircraft from Berlin crashed into the forest near Bassersdorf ZH on approach to Zurich Airport. The aircraft was flying too low. Among the fatalities was US pop singer Melanie Thornton.

The worst accident in Swiss aviation history to date was the crash of a Swissair MD11 plane en route from New York to Geneva in 1998 off Peggy’s Cove in Canada. All 256 people on board died when the plane crashed into the sea. The cause was a fire on board after a cable fire in the on-board electronics.

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