Stansted crash: `There was a roar, a fireball made the sky glow and then the whole field was ablaze'

"IT'S USUALLY the Russian ones that make you hold your breath. They always seem to only just make it off the runway and you think to yourself, `Is it going to be this time?'"

Ray Alston-Smith has become an expert on the undercarriages of the world's aircraft since Stansted airport was expanded in 1991. His home in Great Hallingbury, near Bishop's Stortford, is under the flight path for take- off, and for years villagers have complained about the proximity of departing cargo aircraft, laden with goods and full of fuel, going over their heads.

As commuters made their way home to the dormitory villages of Little and Great Hallingbury yesterday, those trying to get a glimpse of the fullest moon for decades instead saw a fireball light up the sky above their homes.

Kegworth and Lockerbie are both words that resonate with the residents here. Many of them have contemplated the unthinkable, considered the "what if", and as the first drive-time radio reports were broadcast last night, it appeared that their worst fears had come true.

Andrew Smith, who lives in Little Hallingbury, less than a mile from the crash, said the force of the blast rocked his house. "There was a massive roar and the house shook," he said. "I looked out of the window and the sky was glowing orange with a massive fireball. I drove down to where it was to see what I could do, but the whole field was ablaze. My wife stood on the corner of the road to direct the first of the fire engines."

That field adjoins Hatfield Forest, a mile south of the airport. That the plane exploded in a field and not on the hundreds of homes that make up the neighbouring Hallingbury villages was just fortune. Under the flight path is Little Hallingbury Junior School, its windows filled with Christmas decorations and children's art.

Almost two dozen fire engines and various other emergency vehicles were called to the scene within three minutes of the impact but the location of the flaming debris caused problems of its own. None of the tenders was equipped to make it through the sea of mud brought on by the recent snow and thaw.

Special all-terrain vehicles had to be called up but even then the fire crews found themselves without access to easy water supplies. Hose-layer lorries were drafted in, putting down hundreds of feet of hose to the nearest water sources.

Gary Dan, 39, said he was in the upstairs bedroom of his home in Little Hallingbury when he heard the plane and ran to the window to see it, already on fire, go over the top of his house. The heat from the fireball was so intense he felt it through the walls of his house.

"It missed us by feet," he said. "It was just groaning. I tracked it as it went to the field in back of us and hit the ground and was a big fireball. My brother and I ran down there to see if we could find survivors and there was a huge crater."

For Mr Alston-Smith, the man who says he can probably tell an ageing Russian Tupolev aircraft undercarriage from that of an Airbus or Boeing, it had always been a question not of if but when.

"We've always been very concerned. It's been extremely worrying to see these things go overhead day in and day out. Sometimes they are a few hundred feet above your head and as you see them bank, they seem motionless, like a stone waiting to drop.

"You have to wonder whether - with it being Christmas and all the Y2K problems - whether the aircraft was a bit too full, whether they were just trying to make one more big run."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
food + drink
Life and Style
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
tech
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck stars as prime suspect Nick Dunne in the film adaptation of Gone Girl
filmBen Affleck and Rosamund Pike excel in David Fincher's film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
fashion
News
news
News
people
Travel
Warner Bros released a mock-up of what the new Central Perk will look like
travel
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Website Editor

£15 - £17 Per Hour: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently r...

Year 1 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Birmingham: The Job An inner city Birmingham sc...

Year 2 Teacher - Maternity cover

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Year 2 maternity cover, startin...

KS1 Teacher

£95 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Key Stage 1 teacher require...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments