Northern Ireland

Nutts Corner air crash: A forgotten tragedy

Patricia Auld
Image caption Patricia Auld was coming home from her father's funeral when she was killed in the crash

Sometimes, Stephen Auld takes a drive north into County Antrim, and spends some time standing quietly by the side of the busy road, a few hundred yards from the Nutts Corner roundabout .

As he approaches his 61st birthday he's thinking of the mother he lost there more and more often.

"It's trying to imagine in your mind's eye exactly what happened that night" he said.

"The conditions, the feelings of the people as they travelled in towards Nutts Corner, and ultimately crashed."

January 1953 was a dark month for Northern Ireland .

Most people remember the tragic loss of the car ferry "MV Princess Victoria" and 133 lives near the end of the month.

Fewer remember the single worst aviation disaster Northern Ireland has ever seen, a few weeks earlier.

On the evening of 5 January, a BEA Vickers Viking aircraft named "Lord St Vincent" was approaching Nutts Corner airfield having flown from Northolt in West London.

As the pilot took over from the air traffic controllers on the ground, they informed him he was flying a little higher than the path which would have brought him safely to the end of the runway.

A subsequent report found that he must have overcompensated and came down sooner.

The aircraft hit some landing lights, then a vehicle and finally a building, before breaking up. Although a steward and seven passengers survived, 27 others were killed.

Among them was 30-year-old Patricia Auld, known to her family and friends as "Rosie".

Coming home from funeral

A Londoner, she had met her husband George when they were both in the Royal Navy during the war, and they had married and made a life in Belfast.

She was coming home from her father's funeral.

When she lost her life at Nutts Corner, her baby son Stephen was almost one year old.

Ten years later the airfield was shut down, flights coming instead in and out of Aldergrove airport a few miles away.

Nowadays the site is used for motorsport and car boot sales. Some of the land is used by local businesses and training centres. It is difficult to be sure exactly where the crash happened.

As a young boy, Stephen Auld knew nothing of the tragedy until he found a photograph of his mother and asked who it was.

Now he wishes there was something to remind people of the loss of life that night, 60 years ago.

"There is no memorial or mark anywhere of what happened that night" he pointed out.

"No one has actually said 27 people perished here all those years ago."

Over the years Stephen has looked into the details of the crash to try and understand why he lost his mum.

Dark night

But it has also been an important task for the Ulster Aviation Society.

Guy Warner explained what was discovered.

"It was a very dark night, there was no moon, and some drizzle. The board of inquiry came to the conclusion later on that the captain had got it slightly wrong. The pilot had made an honest mistake."

He added: "In summary you could say it was an accident which happened due to pilot error, but there were mitigating circumstances."

Stephen and the society have been in touch with Antrim Borough Council to see what kind of memorial to the crash victims and their families might be possible.

A special reception is being held for them on Saturday 5 January, the 60th anniversary of the disaster.

"Obviously we should all remember the dreadful Princess Victoria disaster, which I do think in part has overshadowed the disaster at Nutts Corner," he said.

"And perhaps that's why people don't remember it so well. Hopefully this will go some small way to redressing the balance."