From Horror to Heroes; Television Mail

By Paterson, Peter | Daily Mail (London), January 22, 2003 | Go to article overview

From Horror to Heroes; Television Mail


Paterson, Peter, Daily Mail (London)


Byline: PETER PATERSON

Collision Course (BBC2); NYPD Blue (C4)

ONE of the duties of TV, eagerly accepted by the programme makers, is to make sure we're all aware of the hideous dangers we're exposed to in our big, dark and dangerous modern world.

So car accidents, disasters at sea and air crashes, along with crimes of violence and acts of terrorism, are endlessly replayed, scrutinised and analysed - in fact and fiction - to make sure we're aware that our lives can be snuffed out in a moment.

The series Collision Course is interested not only in the technical aspects and causes of real-life accidents, but also in exploring the spooky and inexplicable chance happenings that decree who will die and who will survive.

Last night it took the Kegworth air crash in January 1989, when a British Midland Boeing 737 crashed on to an embankment on the M1, as its example.

The flight had left Heathrow Airport for Belfast when, ten minutes into the journey, the left engine caught fire. The pilots, however, erroneously shut down the right engine. In another ten minutes, the plane hit the embankment at about 100mph, killing 39 passengers at the scene. Eight others died later.

Many of the 78 survivors suffered broken limbs, their lives saved only because the plane did not catch fire, its surplus fuel running away down the sloping embankment from the punctured tanks. In many air crashes, leg fractures prevent people escaping from burning aircraft.

Happily, Collision Course concentrated on several of the fortunate survivors. Frank McGarry, for example, has an escape story that will hold his listeners enthralled throughout his life.

When he boarded the plane, he found someone else sitting in his aisle seat near the rear but, not wishing to cause an altercation, he took the middle of the three seats.

Both his neighbours were killed in the crash. It was Frank, too, who had seen smoke and flames emerging from the left engine, and he told a hostess that the cockpit announcement of a fire in the right engine was wrong.

She told him not to worry, saying the error was in the announcement, not the decision that was taken.

What would have happened if Frank had left his seat to talk to the pilots, who were unable to see the engines from the cockpit? Fourteen years ago there was less fear of hijackers than today, and he might have got his message through; on the other hand, he might not. It doesn't bear thinking about.

BEFORE the emergency services could reach the crash, former Marine Graham Pearson was driving along the M1. If he hadn't stopped at a service area to change places with his wife, who then took the wheel, they would have passed the crash scene before the plane came down. …

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