Death of flight engineer who 'died' 51 years ago

 

AN IRISH flight engineer whose death was prematurely announced 51 years ago has died in Britain, aged 86.

Dubliner Edmund O’Keeffe survived a crash on a test flight of a Bristol Britannia 312 on the morning of Christmas Eve, 1958, but the Evening Pressreported that he had died.

Because of the Christmas break, it took his family several days to correct the report and they were inundated with condolences, his sister Maura Greene told The Irish Times: “For nearly a week people thought he was dead.”

His wife, Bernie O’Keeffe, recalled the Evening Presshad to be hidden from Mr O’Keeffe’s mother in case it upset her.

The archives show that on Christmas Day, 1958, the front page of The Irish Timescarried a brief report about the crash and noted that Mr O’Keeffe was one of the three survivors.

Nine people died in the accident which happened near Christchurch in the south of England.

The Whispering Giant aircraft had left Heathrow shortly after 10am on Christmas Eve to test its airworthiness but crashed in heavy fog.

Mr O’Keeffe spent a year in hospital in England and took great glee in having the newspaper article announcing his death pinned over his bed. His first child was born in April as he recovered in hospital in Bournemouth.

Mrs O’Keeffe said she remembered bringing the baby girl in a taxi from London to visit her father when she was a week old.

The couple had three more children and Mr O’Keeffe went on to have a long and enjoyable flying career. He returned to work with the airline BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation) for many years and worked with an airline in Singapore for a year before retiring.

He flew for 31 years and overcame a health scare on his retirement. “We always said he was like Lazarus,” his sister said. “He got 51 more years than some people expected.”

The premature announcement of his death was a great source of fun for the family, his wife said. “About 20 years later, he flew into Dublin and a journalist came up to the cockpit and said to him ‘I was the one who wrote your obituary’. He enjoyed that.”

Ms Greene said their mother had sewed miraculous medals into their clothes and told her son the religious medal had saved his life.

She said her brother had enjoyed celebrating the anniversary of his “death” every year since: “He had his 50th anniversary last year.”

Although the family lived in Berkshire, near London, for most of their lives, Mrs O’Keeffe said they were looking forward to having a big Irish funeral. Arrangements were still being finalised, she said, but it was expected to be held in Dundrum next week.