Glimmer of hope in poignant call to mark 25 years since Yorkshire air disaster

A dark day for the nation is to be honoured in prayer, as a glimmer of “hope” rises from the ashes of the Dunkeswick air disaster a quarter century on.

Rev Craig Marshall pictured at Weeton's St Barnabas church, where there is a memorial stone. Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe

Tomorrow will mark 25 years since Knight Air Flight 816 from Leeds crashed in fields on the outskirts of Harewood just moments after takeoff, killing all 12 of those onboard.

While open church services are suspended, special prayers are to be given in an eucharist led by the Rev Craig Marshall, with the community joining online.

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Now Elizabeth Race, who lost her husband Philip in the crash, has spoken of the joy she has found so many years later as their grandson Kieran Gordon becomes a pilot.

Elizabeth Race with grandson Kieran, 23.

As leader of the relatives’ group that formed at inquest, their only goal had been to improve air travel safety, she says.

“I always believed in hope,” she said. “At the time of the crash, and in the aftermath, I just prayed that air travel would become safer. All these years later, out of this has come something extraordinary – that Kieran even wanted to fly, and that he’s somehow managed to do it.”

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He had travelled to Leeds for a meeting that morning at St James’s Hospital and, despite being a frequent flier, she remembers he was anxious because of the size of the 21-seater plane.

The memorial stone at Weeton's St Barnabas church. Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe

That evening, at home with their three children, then aged 18, 16, and 10, Mrs Race had been ironing in the kitchen when she saw the news flash up on the television screen.

“It’s something that you never prepare for, you never think it’s going to happen to you,” she said.

Two years on, the couple’s first grandchild Kieran was born. By the age of six, he had determined he wanted to be a pilot and now aged 23, he flies in Qatar.

She finds it quite “remarkable”, said Mrs Race, now 71 and living near Oxford, that something positive for her family has come from something so terrible.

Philip Race died in the Dunskeswick Air Disaster on May 24, 1995.

“I studied aviation after the crash, to try and understand what had happened, and Kieran just listened,” she said.

“In a way, I’m so grateful. Kieran is a natural flyer. He has never swerved from wanting to do this.”

Community's tribute

In the days following the disaster in May 1995, villagers in neighbouring Weeton had supported grieving families, gathering at St Barnabas Church for special services of remembrance.

Kieran Gordon, 23, whose grandfather was killed in the Dunkeswick Air Disaster and who is now a pilot.

Mrs Race had planned on visiting the village once again this year but, since services are to be held remotely instead, she has extended her thanks for the kindness show by a community that will represent those that cannot attend to lay flowers.

“Weeton were the most amazing community, after it happened,” she said, reflecting on the response. “They just opened their hearts to us, the relatives.

“The amount of love and care they gave us afterwards and in the years since – it is extraordinary. They took us to their hearts, we have been overwhelmed by their care.”

Prayers are to be given tomorrow to honour the lives lost in the Dunkeswick air disaster 25 years ago.

The Rev Craig Marshall will lead services over Zoom, with families of those who died invited to join remotely.

There were no survivors of the crash on May 24, 1995, which saw the small 21-seater plane come down in bad weather in fields in a hamlet, near Harewood, known as Dunkeswick.

The pilot, just two minutes after take-off from Leeds Bradford on his way to Aberdeen, had asked permission to return before disappearing from air-traffic control.

“We want to remember this significant event, and how much pain it will have caused so many,” Mr Marshall said, ahead of the service. “We would like to remember them.”

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