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Moment that mattered: Eleven people die in a crash in Shoreham air show

“I was at the air show when it happened. I was sitting on the grass with my partner watching the Hawker Hunter display. The plane that crashed went out of my view and then all of a sudden everybody jumped up and gasped. Then I saw the smoke.

My initial reaction was shock, but very soon afterwards I thought ‘I need to get something on the Argus website’. I wasn’t at the air show as a journalist, I was there for a day out. I’ve lived in Shoreham for a few years and I’d never been to the show, the biggest local event in the calendar, and it was very strange to have to suddenly switch to reporting mode. I couldn’t use my phone to put anything on the site because so many people were trying to get online to get information, so I called the reporter in the newsroom and she helped me get a live blog going. I fed information to her.

“I went to the ‘bridge of flowers’ and lit a candle. It was a cold, wet night and yet the bridge was full of people”

The atmosphere at the show after the accident was very weird. Nobody knew what had happened and it was a few hours before we realised the plane had crashed onto the A27 and that anybody other than the pilot was hurt. People were asking questions, trying to find out what happened, but after a while people started trying to enjoy what was still going on at the show because they didn’t know how serious the incident was. That evening I stayed and reported from the site until everybody else had left and then I headed back into Shoreham. People were in a daze. I went to a pub near the site and it was such an odd atmosphere, almost like a wake. Such a sombre mood. People were drinking and trying to enjoy their weekend but more information kept coming in about the extent of the disaster. It wasn’t till the next day that we knew that 11 people had been killed.

Over the following days Shoreham was very quiet. It’s normally a lively little town but hardly anybody went out. It didn’t feel right to have fun after a tragedy like this. One evening in the week after the crash I went to the ‘bridge of flowers’ [a bridge over the A27 that has become a memorial site] and lit a candle. It was a cold, wet night and yet the bridge was full of people. It was incredible and very comforting. I felt lucky to be part of such a strong community.

Reporting on the crash was very difficult. Although I knew I had a job to do, I felt personally affected. Obviously it was a huge story and there was pressure for the Argus to compete with the nationals, but we’re a local newspaper and we have to strike a balance between being first to news and handling the topic sensitively. There were times when we knew the names of the victims before they were released to the public, but it was more important to us to be sensitive to the families of the victims than to publish the names and break the story. As a result of doing things the right way we now have good relationships with a number of the victims’ families. The family of Maurice Abrahams, a 76-year-old chauffeur who was killed when his limousine was involved in the tragedy, invited us into their home to spend a minute’s silence with them. That meant so much to us.

Three months after the crash, it continues to be a major focus of our community and of the newspaper. Of course people have a lot of questions about what went wrong and we’re keeping close tabs on the investigation. We asked questions in the Argus from the start, calling for vintage jets to be stopped from doing aerobatic stunts and questioning the future of the show.

I don’t know whether it will take place next year. The organisers haven’t said anything yet. After what happened this year I find it hard to see it happening again in Shoreham.”

 

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