1972 Staines air crash recalled

 

IRELAND'S entry to the EEC, as it was then called, was marred by the deaths of 12 of Ireland's most prominent businessmen, who died in the Staines air disaster 25 years ago today.

The party was on its way to Brussels for discussions at the EEC headquarters following the passing of the referendum allowing Ireland to join the Community. Ireland acceded to membership the following year.

The British European Airways Trident taking the party to Brussels crashed a few hundred yards from Staines High Street, minutes after the aircraft took off for Brussels from Heathrow. Some 118 people died in what was Britain's worst air disaster.

The Irish businessmen were members of a group from the Confederation of Irish Industry, Coras Trachtala and the Dublin Chamber of Commerce who were travelling to Brussels for discussions with EEC officials.

Those who died were: Mr Melville Miller, managing director of Rowntree-Mackintosh; Mr C.A. Smith, president of the Confederation of Irish Industry; Mr E.J. Gray, director-general of the CII; Mr Hugh Kilfeather, Coras Trachtala; Mr Michael Rigby-Jones, Irish Ropes Ltd; Mr Michael Sweetman, Irish Council for the European Movement; Mr Guy Jackson, Arthur Guinness; Mr E.A. Coleman, Irish Steel Holdings; Mr M.W. O'Reilly, Dublin Chamber of Commerce; Mr O.M. Lochrin, vice-president of the Association of Chambers of Commerce of Ireland; Mr F.M. Mooney; and Mr Ivan Webb, chairman of the Council of the Federated Union of Employers and managing director of G.T. Crampton.

Mr Miller was the only person to be taken alive from the aircraft, but he died later in hospital. He was a former advertising manager of The Irish Times.

There was shock at the scale of the loss to Irish business. All the men were senior in their own companies and in industry organisations. Mr Sweetman, as director of the Irish Council for the European Movement, had been active in the referendum campaign and appreciations credited him with much of that campaign's success.

The then Minister for Finance, Mr George Colley, said the loss was a "most serious blow to the whole nation". He said the loss of so much expertise would be grievous even to a large nation.

"To a small country like ours on the threshold of the new European challenge their dynamism and their realistic grasp of the problems facing industry will be sorely missed."