Basle air crash: The mothers who never came home

The 108 coffins were laid out for relatives who flew to Switzerland to identify the bodies of their loved ones

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Forty years on and the depth of emotion is still apparent in the Somerset communities devastated by an air crash in Switzerland.

On April 10 1973 nearly 140 people, mainly mothers, boarded Invicta Airlines Flight 435 at Bristol Airport happily looking forward to a day's shopping and sightseeing in Basle.

It was the third annual outing for members of Axbridge Ladies Guild, joined on this occasion by women from Cheddar Mums' Night Out group, skittles players from Wrington and Congresbury, plus friends and relatives.

A total of 108 people were killed when the plane struck the tops of trees and crashed into a hillside on its second attempt to land at the Swiss airport during a snowstorm.

Dozens of men lost their wives and more than 40 children lost their mothers in the tragedy.

The deaths also included 17 men on the trip, the two pilots and two other members of crew.

Joan Young was one of 37 survivors - she was found unconscious lying injured in the snow. But her sister, sister-in-law, mother-in-law and a close friend all died.

'Numb shock'

"After six weeks in the hospital I felt lucky when I got back home to my family but I did have a guilty feeling when I saw people in the square who had lost their loved ones. You go on, you live your life but of course you never forget.

"Also I will never forget the kindness - It's marvellous how people pull together."

Joan Young, survivor Joan Young was one of 37 survivors of the crash

Sue Cooke was 19 at the time and about to get married.

She lost 11 members of her family including her parents, who were in their 40s, her grandmother and her mother's sister whose two children were also killed.

When people at home heard about the crash no-one could tell them at first how bad it was.

Then they waited hours and hours, sometimes days, for news of their loved ones.

Mrs Cooke said: "We were in a state of numb shock - we had all said goodbye in the morning and said 'see you later'.

"Eventually my brother and two uncles went out to Switzerland and they had to do identification by belongings. All the coffins were numbered."

Mrs Cooke remembers that at the time some local people had been frightened to speak to the bereaved relatives.

Her husband Peter said: "It is important to talk and remember but even now after 40 years it can still be difficult."

Jude Phillips, whose mother, aged 58, and 21-year-old younger sister died in the crash, remembers everybody in the community being stunned, especially about all the children who had lost their mothers.

"Nobody could take it in. With relatives out and about, people would walk on the other side of the road - they just didn't know what to say," she said.

"It is important to mark the anniversary to pay respects to all those who died."

'Unresolved grief'

Sue Ripley, chairman of Somerset Cruse Bereavement Care, said: "Forty years ago there was not a great deal of counselling or help with grief and frequently people had to suffer in silence.

"Some might feel they have handled it and moved on but suddenly things can come back to them all these years on - often when least expected.

"There might be unresolved grief."

She said marking anniversaries could be a way of acknowledging the lives of those who died and keeping a link with them - and people found it comforting that others were remembering them too.

Boarding the flight to Basle A photograph of passengers boarding the flight was found on the camera of an unknown passenger

The Reverend Geoff Read, the Anglican chaplain in Basle, said: "I have always been struck by the scale of the tragedy and the way its impact was all the more concentrated because of the networks of family and friends involved."

The crash happened when the Vickers Vanguard plane brushed against wooded hills on attempting to land in heavy snow, low cloud and poor visibility.

An inquiry found the most probable cause was a loss of orientation by the crew as they relied on instruments and navigational aids.

Other factors that contributed to the crash included defective equipment which made navigation more difficult.

Mr Read led a short memorial service to mark the anniversary with a small group of relatives from Somerset who travelled to the woodland crash site.

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