Relatives of Shoreham air crash victims commemorate loved ones


Relatives of the 11 men killed in the Shoreham air crash joined in sombre remembrance with 999 service members at a memorial service exactly three months on from the disaster.

More than 550 people filled Lancing College's Gothic chapel near the crash site in West Sussex to remember those who lost their lives in the summer tragedy.

Among those at the invitation-only ceremony were many family members of the 11 men who died when a vintage Hawker Hunter jet crashed on to the A27 on August 22.

They were joined by uniformed firefighters, police officers, paramedics and volunteers, including some who were first on the scene to deal with the immediate aftermath.

The Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, who led the service, said the tragedy "sliced through the fabric of our life" and left one unanswerable question: Why?

He spoke of how the 11 men represented different generations and qualities, with backgrounds which included the Armed Forces, commerce, the public sector and the leisure industry.

On that "momentously terrible" day they were all united by a pursuit of enjoyment, whether it be photography, flying, football, cycling or motorcycling, he said.

Dr Warner said: "Here was youth, fizzing with vitality on the brink of life and all its potential; here were those who had already lived life fully and were ready for more; here was the wisdom and generosity of old age."

Dr Warner praised the "human courage, generosity and compassion" of the emergency services. And he said that this was a time when "grief must blend with love" in a celebration of those who died.

The crash happened when the 1950s plane failed to pull out of a loop-the-loop manoeuvre during the Shoreham Airshow and plummeted on to the busy A27.

Amid the chapel's Gothic splendour, personal reflections were heard of how the airshow's jubilant atmosphere turned to disbelief as the plane disappeared from view.

And how, in the chaotic moments that followed on that Saturday afternoon, blue light crews responded with a "more combined sense of purpose than ever before" to make "sense of chaos".

After prayers led by Dr Warner, the names of the 11 people who died were read out at 1.22pm - the exact time the plane came down - before a minute's silence was observed.

As a guitar instrumental was played by Richard Durrant, each family brought forward a lit candle and placed it on the chapel's altar in front of guests who included Shoreham Airshow representatives.

Family members gave readings, which included the Comfort And Sweetness Of Peace by Helen Steiner Rice, A Letter From Heaven by Ruth Ann Mahaffey and I Am There In Spirit by Bill Hicks.

Sussex Police's Chief Constable Giles York spoke of how "a day like any other" turned out to be anything but for the 18 officers who reported for duty that morning.

He told the service: "At 1.22pm that all changed. They watched in horror and disbelief, with everyone else, as the plane came down. The shock of the crash appeared to make time momentarily stand still.

"When those seconds had passed, seconds that felt like an age, it was the officers that rushed to the crash site, dreading what they would find but knowing they must put their own fears and safety to one side.

"For them being in the background was no longer the requirement. The scale and nature of the incident made it one of the most challenging scenes ever faced by the emergency services in this county.

"By midnight over 100 officers and staff were working at the scene with many of their off-duty colleagues, volunteering to work and help out in whatever way was required.

"It was clear that many had lost their lives and many others were injured, with an even greater number of people desperate to know if their loved ones were involved.

"Thoughts constantly turned to the fact that there would be families with loved ones who would not be returning home to them.

"It became clear what needed to happen; it was what we always do, what we train for, and this is making sense of chaos."

Paul Sutton, chief executive of South East Coast Ambulance Service, said August 22 would be forever remembered as a day "that brought so many people together".

He told how the day started with two clinicians reporting for additional duty providing support to the British Red Cross who were looking after the 20,000-strong crowd.

But he added: "The mood and atmosphere quickly changed at 1.22pm as, like everyone else, they watched in disbelief as the plane disappeared from view, their gazes fixed awaiting it to reappear behind the treeline.

"Of course, we all know - tragically - it didn't. The blur of the next few moments for those on the ground seemed to last a lifetime as they hurried to the A27, unsure of what to expect and unprepared for what they found."

It was one of the most challenging scenes to access because of its location and size, he said. Speaking of his pride in his staff, he said colleagues "did that day what we train to do".

And he went on: "Our thoughts turned to those injured, those uninjured involved, and most poignantly in our minds are the families of those who sadly lost loved ones on this tragic day.

"Even the protection of a uniform cannot prepare someone for those memories."

Sean Ruth, chief fire officer at West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service, said there was no time for crews to prepare mentally for what they were to deal with.

"But in spite of that they did what we expect of them, helping those who need help and making things safe, hand in hand with their emergency service colleagues and with those brave members of the public who knew that they needed to help," he said.

The memorial was organised by emergency service members and local community leaders, including East Worthing and Shoreham Conservative MP Tim Loughton.

Mr Loughton had said he hoped the service would serve to support the victims' families, as well as the first responders on the scene, amid their "terrible loss".

After the national anthem was played, guests filed out including the Lord Lieutenant of West Sussex, Susan Pyper, and the Lord Lieutenant of East Sussex, Peter Field, representing the Queen.

Afterwards, Communities Secretary Greg Clark, who attended the service, expressed his sympathies to the grieving friends and relatives.

And he hailed the "bravery and professionalism" of West Sussex's emergency teams, describing them as "world class".

The victims who died were: wedding chauffeur Maurice Abrahams, 76, from Brighton; retired engineer James Graham Mallinson, 72 and known as Graham, from Newick, near Lewes; window cleaner and general builder Mark Trussler, 54, from Worthing; cycling friends Dylan Archer, 42, from Brighton, and Richard Smith, 26, from Hove; NHS manager Tony Brightwell, 53, from Hove; grandfather Mark Reeves, 53, from Seaford; Worthing United footballers Matthew Grimstone and Jacob Schilt, both 23; personal trainer Matt Jones, 24; and Daniele Polito, 23, from Worthing.

The jet's pilot, Andrew Hill, who survived the impact, has still not been questioned by police or investigators, a Sussex Police spokesman said on Friday.