'They were a group of lovely young people'

By Simon Hart

Fifty years ago this month Liverpool Archdiocese mourned the loss of 13 of our own, killed in a plane crash in Germany

The date at the top of the Catholic Pictorial reads 18 August 1968. Beneath it, the headline 'Crash victims come home'. It was 50 years ago this month that the Pic reported on the shattering repercussions of an air crash in West Germany, where a British Eagle Viscount flight came down on a Bavarian autobahn claiming the lives of all 44 passengers and four crew on board. Among the victims were 13 Merseysiders – seven of them members of Liverpool's Catholic Ramblers. The Pic's poignant front page shows the smiling faces of six of these young women who perished en route to a walking holiday in Austria.

Half a century has passed but the memories remain, as Des and Peter McLindon will testify. Their younger sister, Maureen, a 20-year-old student nurse at Broadgreen Hospital and parishioner of Our Lady of Good Help in Wavertree, was in the Ramblers party. So too their cousin, Mary Fletcher, a police secretary from Essex, who had joined the Liverpool contingent at Heathrow airport.

Peter McLindon remembers returning from work to the family home on the day of the crash, Friday 9 August. 'I was getting home at half past five. This had happened at two-ish. I didn't know why there were lots of people about. My dad opened the door and said to me, "Any news?" I said, "News of what?" We never had a phone in our house and that evening I went into the house next door with an emergency phone number to ring. I rang and asked, "Was Maureen McLindon on the flight?" and their reply was, "No, but there is a Mr M McLindon". You just knew it was an error.'

'Our Maureen had been to Lourdes on the train but I don't think she'd been on a plane,' adds his brother, Des.

The other members of the Ramblers who died were: Jean Baxter, a 24-year-old school teacher from Our Lady of the Assumption, Gateacre; Mary Bryon, 25, from Blessed Edmund Arrowsmith, Whiston; Monica Hanna, 25, a short-hand typist from St Monica's, Bootle; Barbara O'Keefe, 25, a PE teacher from Blessed Ambrose Barlow secondary school, West Derby; Valerie Humphreys, 22, a teacher from St Hugh's primary school, Wavertree; and Irene Rawlinson, 23, a civil servant, also from St Hugh's parish.

For Valerie Humphrey's brother Mike, who had waited four hours at Innsbruck airport, the pain was doubly fierce. His girlfriend was Barbara O'Keefe, a first-time flyer who, according to the Liverpool Echo, was said by her mother to have 'complained of dreams in which she had a premonition of the crash'. Peter McLindon, who himself had tried in vain to book a seat on the flight, recalls an effervescent young woman with a love of netball and Everton FC. 'She was an absolute hoot – she had a husky voice and was a sparkling personality,' he says. 'They were a really great group of lovely young people.'

The other six Liverpudlian victims were members of the same family and regulars at St Mary's, Woolton: Eileen Staunton, her son Peter and daughter Eileen Hall, and grandchildren Barbara, Veronica and Brendan.

To mark the 40th anniversary in 2008, the McLindons visited Langenbruck, the nearest village to the crash site, and attended a memorial Mass at St Katharina's Catholic church where they met the local mayor and even a fireman who had been present at the scene of the crash. In the graveyard they found a small shrine featuring a flower bed and wooden cross: etched into the wood is the date of the tragedy.

Des will be back in Langenbruck on Sunday 12 August, remembering the sister and cousin he lost. 'Since it's happened, every five years at the appropriate Sunday Mass they've had a procession up to the graveyard. There'll be the Mass and procession and they'll put a wreath on the grave. We didn't know those lovely people out in Germany had for all those years shown such respect.' A small shred of comfort, so many years on.

The Liverpool Catholic Ramblers will remember the victims of the air tragedy at their Annual Mass at the Cathedral Crypt on Sunday 23 September (11.30am).