Air-crash hero in fight for trauma damages

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The Independent Online
The first man to arrive at the scene of the British Midland air crash at Kegworth in 1989 went to court yesterday to seek damages for the stress he has suffered in the aftermath.

A Royal Marine yesterday described how he spent more than three hours helping to rescue the injured and dying from the crash wreckage alongside the M1 in Leicestershire.

Graham Pearson, 39, who is battling for compensation from British Midland over the acute post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) he suffered in the wake of the catastrophe, told the court how he emerged covered in blood and later had to undergo an HIV test.

Although British Midland long ago admitted "primary liability" for the January 1989 accident in which 47 people died, it is disputing the amount of damages due to Mr Turnbull, a father of four, from Goole, Humberside. His counsel, Paul Rose, said his claim for pounds 57,000 damages was "modestly pitched", but British Midland insists he is only due pounds 200.

Mr Pearson, who won an award for bravery from the Royal Humane Society for his efforts, said he and his wife were driving home along the M1 after visiting relatives in Kent when they saw a "flash in the sky" and quickly came upon debris. He got out of the car to see an injured passenger staggering towards him and, despite the risk of an explosion from leaking fuel, made his way into the nose of the stricken plane.

As he entered the fuselage, "passengers were crying and screaming at me for help", Mr Pearson recalled. "I would say my main role was simply calming people down verbally and holding their hands ...

"I could hear a woman screaming from underneath the floor and every time I moved I thought of the floor pressing on her and I could imagine her pain ... Some [passengers] were already dead and had horrific injuries," said Mr Pearson. "At the time I simply saw what had to be done and got on with it as best I could. It was simply adrenaline working, giving me the strength to do what I had to do."

Dr Gordon Turnbull, a psychiatrist, told the court how Mr Pearson had been unwilling to accept he was suffering from PTSD when he examined him in 1995. "Almost all the symptoms of PTSD were present at the time of the examination," said Dr Turnbull, head of the traumatic stress unit at Ticehurst House Hospital in Sussex, and author of the leading textbook on the subject. "He told me he had lost interest in most of his social and sporting activities and has simply lost his zest for them. He told me he lacks direction in his life now."

Dr Turnbull said PTSD had the effect of "pulling out the rug" from under a victim's feet, giving them a "foreshortened view of their future". Although his condition had since improved because of intensive therapy, Dr Turnbull said he was "guarded" about whether Mr Pearson was now able to lead "a virtually normal life".

Judgment is due on Monday.