Tyne & Wear

Blackhall Bowls Club crash: Service recalls 1969 disaster

BBC footage of the crash
Image caption The bus crashed on Crawleyside Bank near the Derwent Reservoir on 14 August 1969

A County Durham village has remembered those who died when a bus carrying a bowls team crashed 50 years ago.

The coach crashed on Crawleyside Bank, in Weardale, on 14 August 1969, killing 19 people, including the 12-year-old daughter of the driver.

The crash devastated the community of Blackhall, and a memorial garden was created in Welfare Park.

A remembrance service in the village was attended by survivors and relatives of those who were killed.

The Blackhall Colliery Veterans' Bowls team was returning from a match in Consett when the brakes of the wood and aluminium coach failed, sending it crashing through a wall on a steep bank just outside Stanhope.

Image caption Alan Smith was 14 years old at the time of the crash and is the last living survivor

Alan Smith, who is the last living survivor of the crash, was travelling with his grandfather, who was among those killed.

Mr Smith, who was 14 at the time, said: "If I close my eyes I can always put myself back in that coach.

"I remember as we gathered speed it started to swerve. The driver was clearly struggling to maintain control and seconds later we were leaving the road.

"I don't know whether I was ejected through the side or whether I went out through the skylight.

"I just know I was very lucky."

Image caption Harry Irwin was a firefighter who attended the crash

Harry Irwin, who was one of the firefighters who attended the crash, said: "It was a scene that was impossible to forget. I had never seen anything like it.

"We had to remove all the bodies out to a makeshift mortuary, but something just clicked in and we got on with what we had to do.

"The emotions come afterwards, when you go home and you lay in bed awake all night."

Image caption Local schoolchildren laid flowers at the memorial

Twenty children from local schools attended the memorial service and laid a single flower while reading out the names of the victims.

Joanna Clark, head teacher at Blackhall Primary School, said it was important later generations understood the impact the crash had on the village.

She added: "Although it was very sad it shows that we still all support and remember those people."

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