Agony of survivor of Gatwick’s worst ever air crash ...
It wasn’t until Beverly Jones was five years old that she discovered the people she had always thought were her mum and dad were really her grandparents.
It was the day she also found out that her parents had been killed in the worst ever plane crash at Gatwick Airport.
Ann and William Jones died when a passenger jet crashed onto their home - completely obliterating the building before bursting into a fireball, killing another 48 people on board the aircraft.The tragedy unfolded as the plane approached Gatwick in thick fog.
Miraculously, Ann and William’s 18-month-old baby daughter Beverly survived when two ends of her cot collapsed and shielded her from the rubble of the demolished house. She was rescued by two police officers.
Until the age of five Beverly knew nothing of the tragedy but now - 50 years on - she says: “Now I’m feeling it.”
Now herself a mother of two grown up daughters, Beverly - who works for Horsham District Council - says it is only now that it is hitting her harder. She said of her pain: “It didn’t really compute until my youngest was born and I realised she would never know her grandparents.”
She also revealed how she always ends up in tears every time she herself boards an aircraft. “I don’t really know why.”
The devastating crash which changed her life happened between Crawley and Horley on Sunday January 5 1969.
An error by the pilot of the aircraft, an Ariana Afghan Airlines jet, was later blamed for the crash which claimed 50 lives.
Three aircraft crew members, including the pilot, and four passengers also survived, along with Beverly.
Beverly’s grandparents, who brought her up at their home in Ifield Road, West Green, Crawley, gently revealed to her what happened after Beverly was teased at school for having ‘old parents.’
And she revealed this week that her grandparents - Hettie and Harry Simmonds - had very nearly also died on that fateful day.
“They had been babysitting me and were going to stay the night because it was really foggy, but then decided to go home,” said Beverly.
They had been home for less than an hour when a policeman knocked on the door and told them the awful news of what had happened.
“My grandparents said: ‘What about the baby?’ The police said ‘what baby?’ and only then realised that I was in the house.”
A frantic search began for the tot and she was finally saved when PC Keith Simmonds heard her crying and pulled her from the rubble of her parents’ demolished house.
“It took them about 12 hours to dig me out,” said Beverly who had a poignant reunion with PC Simmonds on her 21st birthday. And she is now set to meet up with the former police officer again on Saturday in Devon where he now lives - to mark the 50th anniversary of the tragedy.
“It will only be the second time we have met since it all happened. I don’t know what I will say,” said Beverly.
PC Simmonds, who received the Queen’s Commendation for Brave Conduct for his actions that night, remembered in a statement issued by Surrey Police on the 50th anniversary: “I could see that there was a lot of rubble that the tail was sitting on and part of the tail engine was burning very brightly.
“As I cautiously approached I saw a movement which on closer inspection was a baby’s arm. She was in a cot and two ends of the cot had collapsed inwards, forming a roof over her.
“I carefully lifted her out and ran back with her to the lane where the first ambulance had just arrived.”
Beverly herself has no recollection of what happened that night, but she has a poignant reminder of the home she once shared with her parents. Her grandmother dug up some snowdrops from what was once the family garden and Beverly now has them in her own garden in Crawley.
And every year Beverly always marks the anniversary of the tragedy on January 5. “I always stay up to 1.37am which is when the plane hit,” she said. This year she happened to be on holiday in India with a friend, but still checked UK time to ensure she marked the event.
Now Beverly, who has received no compensation from the disaster, is hoping that a permanent memorial to her parents could be erected in a public place.
“Really, I’d like it to be in the Memorial Gardens in Crawley, or perhaps a plaque on a wall where my father’s business was in Crawley. I’d hate to have it in a place with planes flying over it all the time.”
She also has her own permanent personal reminder of the agony she has gone through - she has the names of her parents and her now-late grandparents tattooed on her arms.
She also has a small plaque at Crawley’s Surrey and Sussex Crematorium which she often visits “but I would really like a public memorial,” she adds.