Narrow escape as jet skims estate's rooftops

Freighter crash confirms people's fears, writes Martin Whitfield
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The Independent Online
Displaced roof tiles and a piece of aircraft debris hanging from a garden tree tell the tale of how close Coventry's Willenhall estate came to disaster.

Miraculously, the Air Algerie Boeing 737 managed to slip between the terraces of Field March and James Croft before plunging into the woods.

Wires from the damaged electricity pylon hung down among garages and sheds.

"It's amazing that more people weren't killed," said Dave Chesworth, 49, the owner of a fruit shop with a clear view of the damaged pylon.

"On a lovely morning like today there are usually children playing in the woods."

The estate is less than two miles from the airport and lies directly beneath the main approach path. Several residents watched the crash from their bedroom windows.

Josephine Kelly, 60, a cleaner at the Willenhall Social Club, was just getting up in a house in James Croft when she heard the first crash. She believes the Algerian pilot must have deliberately tried to avoid the houses.

"I had just opened the curtains and there it was. I thought it was going to hit the house. It must have swerved as it was on its side. The first thing I heard was a lot of noise; it was only a matter of seconds. There was a big bang followed by four explosions.

"It has made people very nervous. They keeping tell us that they don't go too low but they do."

Residents on the estate, which was built in the 1950s and was once owned by Coventry City Council but is now full of homeowners under the right-to-buy scheme, had warned of the disaster but derived no pleasure from saying: we told you so.

Two petitions to the council, the airport's owners, in the past two years have complained of night flights, noise and low flying. Most residents tell of being able to see the pilots. "I often wondered if I should invite them in to tea," one said.

"We always said it was only a matter of time before it happened," said Mr Chesworth, who was one of many people from the estate who attended a protest meeting in Baginton village hall during the summer.

"A lot of people are going to be worried every time a plane goes over. It's going to be awful," he added.

Evelyn Davis, 60, who lives five doors from the wood where the aircraft crashed, was in her garden when the accident occurred.

"It was upside down as it went over. I could see the tail and engines," she said. "I complained about this aircraft two weeks ago. I said it was flying too low. I said two years ago that this should be stopped."

Mrs Davis assembled 500 signatures in protest against noise from the airport in 1992 and has been a leading figure in the row over flights involving the export of calves.

Her husband, Daniel, a 67-year-old retired building worker, rushed to the scene while Mrs Davis called the emergency services.

"Around the engines was on fire. There were people trying to see if anybody was alive but I was worried that it would explode. We will be frightened every time we see a plane. We are going to be a bag of nerves."

John Reeve, 59, a former Jaguar worker who, coincidentally, has the same name as Baginton airport's manager, said he would like to move after being constantly woken up by night flights.

But, like many residents, he has found he is unable to sell his house. "Things like this are bound to happen. I know you have to have airports but I want to get out of this area," he said.

Residents complain that extra business for the airport following a new contract with the Post Office and the recent launch of the veal flights to the Netherlands has meant more disturbance.

Brian Clack, leader of Coventry City Council, maintained the airport, one of the country's largest for cargo, had a good safety record. The last accident was in 1987 when a Meteor aircraft crashed during an air display.

He said he hoped the official inquiry would be swift. "What is important to me is the question of the flight path and how safe it is and whether it could be made safer."

The crash coincided with a planned demonstration outside the council offices by members of Coventry Animal Alliance, who have been staging a daily vigil outside the airport.

Helen, one of those present, said: "People have said it's justice. We just want it to stop, but we do not want anybody to have been hurt. People have been coming up to us as if we are responsible and are saying, `are you satisfied now?' We do not want toharm humans at all."

(Photographs and graphic omitted)