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Survivors Tell of Loud Bang, Smoke, Flames and Panic With AM-Jet Fire

August 22, 1985

MANCHESTER, England (AP) _ Hilary Loftus remebers sitting stunned on the burning wing of the jetliner, cradling her 2-year-old son. “Then my husband appeared out of the foam on the ground and told me to jump.”

Mrs. Loftus jumped with the baby into his arms and escaped the flames in which 54 passengers on British Airtours Flight 328 perished.

They were among the 83 people who survived after an engine exploded on the Boeing 737 as it gathered speed to take off on a flight to the Greek holiday island of Corfu.

The Loftus family from Stockport, England, told how how they escaped the rush of smoke, flames and panic that engulfed the plane after the aborted takeoff.

″We seemed to be just getting up to takeoff speed when there was a loud bang,″ said Michael Loftus, his feet wrapped in bandages at Wythenshawe hospital where most of the injured were treated.

″It was as if we had hit something on the runway or a tire had blown out. The pilot braked immediately. ... I looked to the port side and could see flames coming from the wing. People just started panicking straight away.″

Firemen arrived in minutes to spray the burning aircraft with foam. Airport Manager Gil Thompson said firemen told him the blaze ″spread within seconds and they could see the plane crumbling. The whole thing was a matter of minutes.″

Mrs. Loftus said she was two rows from an exit, but with smoke billowing inside the cabin, ″I couldn’t see anything. There was foam everywhere,″ she said.

″I had baby Daniel in my arms (and) just dropped out of the door and sat on the wing.″ When her husband appeared, ″I jumped with the baby into his arms.″

Michael Loftus said he became separated from his wife after he pulled his daughter Joanne, 4, through the exit, jumped from the wing and laid her down in grass at the airport perimeter.

″Then I went back to the plane. (My wife) was still sitting on the wing with the boy,″ he said.

David Ashworth, 39, escaped from the aircraft with his wife Kathleen and children Christopher, 13, and Dominic, 11.

″The people who got the worst of it were in the rear of the plane. They got the worst of the flames and the smoke and were trapped,″ Ashworth said.

As the survivors told their stories, officials and flight attendants from British Airways - parent company of the tour operator - circulated through the hospital wards, handing out coffee and comforting the injured.

Many of the survivors still clutched plastic bags full of duty-free goods, purchased just before the plane took off from this northwest England industrial city.

Keith Middleton, a 21-year-old from Liverpool, said ″Everyone was screaming and shouting.

″They were diving out of their seats and pushing. Some were getting trampled on″

Middleton said a steward ″grabbed me and threw me down one of the (escape) chutes.″

Mike Mather, 21, from nearby Northwich, told reporters that ″after the bang, the stewards told us to keep down until the plane stopped, but there was mass panic. Everybody was bunched up in the aisles.

″Smoke was coming down the roof and flames were coming in from over the wing. I could hardly breathe. ... One of the stewards threw me out of my seat and I managed to get out of the front door.″

Ambulance worker worker Graham Berger, who helped carry the injured into the hospital, said, ″It was not the injuries which struck me. I have never seen so much terror in people’s eyes.″

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