Community gathers to remember Crawleyside bus disaster on 50th anniversary of crash

Commemorations have taken place to remember those lost in a tragic bus accident that claimed the lives of 19 people on the 50th anniversary of the disaster.

By Mark Payne
Wednesday, 14 August, 2019, 15:52

It was August 14, 1969 when a coach carrying 42 people, most of them elderly members of Blackhall Veterans bowls club, crashed at Crawleyside in County Durham when travelling back from a match against Consett.

Exactly 50 years later, the community, including family members and survivors, came together at Blackhall’s Welfare Park to lay wreaths and flowers at the park’s memorial.

Children from Blackhall Primary School laid a single flower and read the name of the 18 victims from Blackhall and the driver’s 12-year-old daughter Linda Watts.

Alan Smith, 64, who survived the Crawleyside bus crash at the memorial in Blackhall Welfare Park.

The poignant service was attended by local civic dignitaries and prayers were led by Father Kyle McNeil, Church of England priest for Blackhall and Horden.

It was organised by members of the bowls club and as part of the day 10 teams played in a competition for the Linda Watts Memorial Trophy.

Stan Gray, one of the organisers, said: “It’s gone very well. I’m amazed at how many people turned up.

“When we come here to play bowls we always look over to the memorial.”

A Blackhall Primary School pupil lays a flower to one of the victims on the 50th anniversary of the coach crash.

The accident happened when the coach’s brakes failed in bad conditions and crashed through a roadside wall.

Alan Smith, now 64, was one of the survivors, but his grandfather William Smith, who was sat next to him, died instantly.

He said: “It was only by chance that I was on the coach that day. My grandmother wasn’t well and couldn’t go so I went with my granddad.”

Alan said the coach took a wrong turn on the journey back and found itself going up a steep, twisting road in misty conditions.

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Survivor Alan Smith (right) was among those who laid flowers during the service.

He remembers the heavy bowls falling from the racks and trying to push them back on.

“It was only a matter of seconds after that where the bus left the road,” he said. “I remember the bus being at an angle as we went off.

“I don’t remember the impact, I just remember suddenly being in front of the bus. I don’t know how I got there.”

Winded, Alan was treated by some residents who took him in. Luckily, he suffered only minor injuries.

Wreaths and flowers were laid at the memorial in Blackhall Welfare Park on the 50th anniversary of the Crawleyside coach crash.

“I was just a lucky lad,” he said. “It wasn’t anybody’s fault, it was just a series of events coming together which led to a terrible end.”

Ann Pickering also attended the anniversary service. She lost both her parents William and Florence Henderson in the disaster.

They had gone to watch the game and see friends in Consett.

Mrs Pickering said of the service: “I think it was very well organised and very touching, especially with the children with the flowers.

“Today is a happy memory.”

There was a good attendance for the service in Blackhall.