The Staines air disaster which killed 118 people in England 50 years ago, including several prominent Irish businessmen, was a ‘great loss for Ireland’, the widow of one of the people killed.
A British European Airways flight crashed in the town of Staines on June 18, 1972, shortly after taking off from London Heathrow en route to Brussels, killing all on board.
Twelve Irish businessmen were on the flight to Brussels for meetings after Ireland passed a referendum to join the European Economic Community (EEC), which later became the European Union.
The Irish businessmen were members of a group from the Confederation of Irish Industry, Córas Trachtála and the Dublin Chamber of Commerce, who traveled to Brussels for talks with EEC officials.
Michael Sweetman, one of those killed in the crash, had been heavily involved in the referendum as director of the Irish Council for the European Movement.
His widow, Barbara Sweetman Fitzgerald, said the accident was “terribly devastating” for the country. Mr. Sweetman was 36 and the family had several children.
On the evening of the accident, the family learned of the accident on the radio, she said. Later that night, Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald came to the family’s home to express his condolences, along with John Hume, she said.
The former Fine Gael leader was a good friend of Mr Sweetman, and Mr Hume had visited Mr FitzGerald in Dublin at the time.
The loss was particularly hard on the eldest daughters in the family, who were twins, Ms Sweetman Fitzgerald said. “They were so proud of him, listening to him everywhere when he spoke during the referendum,” she said.
Ms Sweetman Fitzgerald said one of the things that helped her through this period was the fact that Bloody Sunday happened earlier that year. “I remember thinking that if all these people had suffered like this, I might suffer too,” she said.
The crash claimed the lives of “so many good people” who were all leaders in their fields, she said.
“It’s weird to think that 50 years have passed. Good to be remembered because it was such a big loss for Ireland,” she said.