By Simon Bucknall, JCI London President
On 18th June 1972, British European Airways flight ‘Papa India’ crashed shortly after take-off from London’s Heathrow airport. All 118 passengers on-board were killed – including seven members of the JCI Belgium National Board. They were returning to Brussels from JCI European Conference that year, which was held in Edinburgh.
A special relationship has existed between JCI London and JCI Belgium ever since.
This year, a delegation of more than twenty-five Belgian JCI members and family made the journey to London to commemorate the 40th Anniversary. As President, it was my privilege to welcome the delegation at an informal reception held on the Sunday at Brown’s Brasserie on the South Bank.
I was immediately struck by the extraordinary generosity of spirit and strength of those directly affected by the crash. Despite the sadness of the event, I did also sense tremendous strength and optimism on the part of those attending.
On the Monday, we met at Waterloo station for the 8.37am train to Staines. Admittedly, due to one or two latecomers, a handful of us (ahem!) were obliged to take a later train. But we arrived in good time for prayers to be said at the official Memorial in the Moormead Sports Ground, followed by an 11am service at nearby St Mary’s Church.
Olivier de Block is a JCI Member and aviation enthusiast. Put simply, you’ll be hard pressed to find someone with a more in-depth knowledge of aviation disasters. At lunch, he talked us through the details of previsely how the plane came to crash – stalling at 1,500 feet before dropping like a stone over Staines Moor. The impact of the tragedy on aviation practice was profound – and remains with us today. The black box which records cockpit communications was introduced directly as a result of what happened that day.
In the afternoon, we were privileged to be invited on a private tour of the British Airways Training Centre, complete with state-of-the-art flight simulators, crew member ‘dummy aircraft cabins’ plus the opportunity to experience just how heavy an emergency exit door from an aircraft really is!
Extraordinary fact: emergency doors on aircraft are easy to remove at ground level; in the air, they are kept in place by the pressure of the air inside the cabin only.
All in all, an extraordinarily moving day – particularly for the family members, visiting the site and the UK memorial for the very first time. As for me, the opportunity to spend time with such a wonderfully spirited group of new friends from Belgium was one I shall remember for a very long time.
Tradition has it that in September each year, the President of JCI London attends JCI Belgium National Conference – to give a brief speech and to present the Staines Award, the most prestigious award a member of JCI Belgium can ever receive. I look forward to attending this year’s conference, to be held in Flanders from 21st-23rd September. If you would like to accompany me (and potentially my wife and young daughter!) on the Eurostar, you’d be most welcome!
Just drop me an email – [email protected]
Categorised in: Chamber News
This post was written by makedo