Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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1985 Aug 22 Th
Margaret Thatcher

Remarks visiting Manchester (air disaster)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: Remarks
Venue: Manchester
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: 1800-1945. MT left Salzburg at 1500. She gave a series of interviews to reporters, one on arriving in Manchester, others after seeing the plane and visiting the injured at Wythenshawe Hospital. The names of interviewers were not recorded by the COI. The transcript begins with MT already in flow.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2217
Themes: Autobiographical comments, Northern Ireland, Terrorism, Transport

MT speaking on arrival at Manchester Airport before viewing the plane:

…   . They said that it would be all right to come …   .

AB

And you expect to go to the hospital?

PM

I'm going to the hospital, we're going out to see the aircraft now and it's been explained to me what they believe happened. I've spoken to some of the firemen. It is of course a terrible tragedy. We've had so many and thought that we had fortunately been clear. That doesn't make any of the others any easier and from what they've told me I think that we can be very relieved that in spite of the tragic number of deaths—over 50—some 80—84 got out and there was so much petrol burning with the aircraft full of fuel. So I would like now to go and see the aircraft and then perhaps I will have a word with you.

AB

Thank you very much.

MT speaking at Manchester Airport after viewing the plane:

PM

Everyone is appalled by the tragedy as you would expect. A holiday aircraft. One moment people taking off looking forward to their holiday and within seconds this terrible accident. I understand that the crew and people on the ground, the firemen and ambulancemen were superb. The crew managed to get off as many people as possible and people on the ground risked their lives to help get them out of the aircraft. You have seen photographs of the airport and of the aircraft yourselves. It looks as if something from the engine pierced the fuel tank in the wing so that the fuel would have disgorged onto a hot engine and of course with oxygen coming straight, with the air going straight over the aircraft that was the source of the fire. I understand that two of the three recorders have already been recovered and they expect to recover the third one in an hour. There will have to be an inspection of the runway before the airport can be opened again. I plan to go to the hospital, both hospitals where of course they have been absolutely marvellous. I remember when I went to the hospitals after Bradford, the praises that everyone sung about the doctors and nurses were really a joy to hear. [end p1] My immediate reaction, I was just appalled. I heard the news soon after 8 o'clock, 8.30 about our time but then we did not, it was a tragedy that the death toll just mounted as you know and it was difficult …   . of course there will have to be a very thorough investigation into the cause.

I

Prime Minister, many of the British public may be concerned about flying after this. What would you say about that?

PM

When we get a terrible air crash of this kind, everyone is appalled and shocked, of course they are. Because you just think, well, supposing we were on that aircraft and looking forward to where we were going and then all of a sudden this happened. And of course your minds are very imaginative and filled with the horror of the situation and the tragedy of the families. But you know thousands and thousands of aircraft fly safely and this aircraft so far has had I understand a good safety record.

I

Do you think in view of the number of air crashes recently worldwide, there is perhaps reason for the Government to look into the wider implications of aircraft safety generally?

PM

Every single aspect of this accident will be thoroughly investigated. It has to be, obviously. Because we're deeply concerned about aircraft safety. British Airways has a good record and as you know Manchester Airport is an excellent Airport. We're very proud of Manchester Airport and the services it gives.

I

Prime Minister, have you any message for the relatives of the victims of this crash?

PM

I can only express our deepest sympathy and sorrow and we have to do everything we can to help. I think at a time like this they really must know that everyone comes and tries to help them in their sorrow because if they're just left alone to brood they'll go over and over it again in their minds. So it is a question of everyone helping those who have been bereaved and those who are injured. I understand that some small children were got off which was a great [end p2] relief to us all. Of course it doesn't alter the fact that there are over 50 who were killed in this terrible tragedy. I can't give you any more information. I have checked what I have given you to ensure that it is accurate and an investigation will proceed apace. I'm now wanting to go to the hospital if you'll excuse me.

I

…   . international co-operation between countries to deal with this recent spate of accidents?

PM

But look, everything in the airways is international, whether it's the aircraft, the engines, the airports, the undertakings that are given from one country to another, the Warsaw and Prague Agreements which govern compensation and help in these terrible occasions. So everything that is learned from any other accident of course goes through the whole industry. It has to, because we're concerned about safety. Naturally we're concerned about safety. Thank you very much.

MT speaking at Wythenshawe after visiting the survivors in hospital:

PM

…   . and I have seen all of the people who are at present here, including some of those, indeed all of those in intensive care. As you may imagine, most of the injuries are to do with the lungs because of course they inhaled the fumes which have affected the lungs and made the eyes just rather sore. They are being very carefully monitored, all of the injuries, very carefully monitored indeed and as the hospital points out, the overwhelming part of the work of the hospital, the ordinary work of the hospital continued today and I've also seen a number of people waiting to see patients in the general ward part of the hospital. The hospital also wants to say that they are very, very grateful to the members of the public who have 'phoned in voluntarily to say do you need any more blood supplies. There has been a tremendous number of telephone calls about that and the hospital are very, very pleased and would like to thank them. [end p3]

I

Mrs. Thatcher, do they talk at all about what happened to them when you spoke to the patients?

PM

I spoke just a little to them but one obviously, I didn't to disturb their treatment. Some of them are doing, they're all getting on. They're all being very, very carefully monitored and looked after, very carefully monitored and will be overnight. And there's one other thing they said. As you know a number of them were treated earlier and went home. Should they develop any weasiness in their lungs would they please come to the hospital immediately.

I

Did they talk to you about their ordeal at all and how they got out of the plane?

PM

Yes, one or two did and there were some who were here this morning for treatment who are back now just to talk to the patients who are still in.

I

What did they say to you?

PM

Well, I'm not going to repeat what they said. That's a matter for the accident inquiry body.

I

But what was it like for you to see these people? I mean obviously after such an ordeal and after seeing the plane at the airport?

PM

Of course seeing them and the relatives, because I saw the relatives who were waiting at the airport and some of the relatives here, and brings it home to you in a way that nothing else can. You read about accidents, these terrible accidents and they're something which happens at the other side of the world. And now when it happens on your own doorstep you realise that each and every person suffers in a case like this and it is agony for relatives who've lost anyone or who are worried about anyone and it brings it right home to you. It really does. You know when you've got everyone nothing else matters really and now that they have suffered the loss of relatives, children, parents, friends, sorrow and agony is the only word for it. [end p4]

I

Prime Minister, what were your feelings when you heard about the accident, crash?

PM

I'm afraid it's a customary word but it is, it's shock, just mounting shock and horror as reports of the death toll mounted and then we decided to try to fly to Manchester this afternoon if we could. We couldn't obviously come into the airport but I very much wanted to see what had happened for myself and above all to see those who had suffered and to see some of the relatives because at this time all you can do is get under way, indeed it happens automatically, the investigation, very intensive investigation, and go and be with those who are suffering.

I

How soon do you hope to see that investigation completed?

PM

Well, it's difficult for me to say. I know you want instant answers. They're working on it very quickly. As I indicated at the airport when I was there, they've already got two of the flight recorders and expected to get the third one before nightfall and they will start on decoding those very quickly. We are in a position where the aircraft is at the airfield, you're not looking for wreckage for a long way around so they are in a good position to be able to get at the cause of the crash. It wasn't a crash, the cause of the abortive take-off, the cause of the fire.

I

But will you be pressing for an early report on this?

PM

You want, for very obvious reasons, everyone connected with the air business as well as everyone who has relatives or does any flying wants to know the answer as soon as possible, in case it's relevant to anything else. So everyone is trying to get it out as quickly as possible and I spoke to the investigation inspector.

I

What sort of condition were the patients in when you saw them?

PM

Well, they're very varied obviously. All are being carefully monitored, some have less injuries, can talk and are very [end p5] cheerful and others are resting. But everyone, I'm very impressed by the close monitoring they're giving to every patient who is there just to make certain that any change in condition is seen and spotted very quickly indeed. And also I saw some of the visitors waiting to see ordinary patients and I stressed that the work of the hospital has gone on as well. Indeed I saw some people in intensive care who were in there from the ordinary work of the hospital. I think they have done a magnificent job. They point out that they are a hospital near an airport and therefore they have regular procedures which they test regularly and have a drill which they test out regularly and that's why they were able to cope so very well today.

I

Were you able to see any of the patients who are in intensive care?

PM

Yes, I saw them, but one didn't speak to them. I think one or two I might just have gone round and put my hand on theirs just because they couldn't see who I was and that's all. You do want contact at times like these.

I

And the other patients, what did they say to you?

PM

The other patients, well I'm not going to say what they said to me. Some are quite cheerful now, because they're feeling so much better tonight than they were feeling this morning. And the other patients who were not here from the accident, one was very pleased to have the chance of talking to some of them and to their families.

I

Finally Prime Minister, this is a personal question but has it shaken you this?

PM

Every tragedy shakes one to the core. I think the first one that I had as Prime Minister was one in Northern Ireland, do you remember Warrenpoint, and of course the murder of Lord Mountbatten and just recently of course there was Bradford and the Harrods bomb, there was the bombing of the Horse Guards, the bomb of the Green Jackets' bandstand you recall and the one at the Chelsea Barracks where some of them were nail bombs. Every single one shakes you. [end p6] They're no longer accidents you read about in the paper. You actually see the damage, you see the suffering, you see the terrible worries of the relatives but you also see the magnificent way in which our emergency services work. That is so with the Ambulance Services, Fire Services, all of the voluntary helpers, the blood donors. Everyone in the hospital, the nearby hospital, who hears of the accident will down tools and come in immediately. The staff who have been on overnight will stay on, the day staff will be there, everyone but everyone rallies round to help. And my concern always is that that help should be there not only at the beginning but friends should continue it throughout the coming months because those people are going to need all the help and friendship and the warmth they can get.

I

Mrs Thatcher, it must be an awful end to your holiday?

PM

It would be terrible at any time.

I

But how did you first hear about it?

PM

I heard about it at breakfast this morning, the same as everyone else did, as the news began to come in. There had been a fire on take off, we were told, and then it came in that the ‘plane had not taken off, that the take off had been aborted and had it of course taken off it perhaps would have been even worse.

I

What made you divert your return so quickly to come to here, Mrs. Thatcher, was it an easy [thing] to do?

PM

Because one wanted to see exactly what had happened and come to see the people who are in hospital and also to see the relatives who are waiting and one wanted to see just exactly what happened and talk to some of the people who have been involved. Thank you very much.