At first reports were dismissed by police who thought people were just seeing and hearing fireworks over Blackdown.
It was 9.58pm on Saturday, November 4, 1967, and there were bonfire parties going on all over the area.
But it quickly transpired that one of the worst crashes in civil aviation history had occurred on Blackdown, a mile as the crow flies from Fernhurst.
Now a team from Fernhurst Archives, headed by director Christine Maynard, is putting on an exhibition to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the horrific event and unveil a plaque remembering the night 37 people died and the Fernhurst community pulled together to help the emergency services.
The brainchild of Christine, it has taken nearly a year to organise and includes harrowing first hand accounts of the night the Iberian Airlines Caravelle, bringing holiday makers back to Heathrow from Malaga, smashed into the hillside.
As it hit trees it began to break up and leaking fuel caused a brief massive fire ball. It clipped a house, destroyed a garage and ploughed into the ground at such speed the wreckage was spread out for a square mile and everyone aboard died instantly.
Although 19 people were, for an unknown reason, buried at Brookwood cemetery in Surrey, there has never been a memorial at Fernhurst because the crash site was on private land.
Now a plaque will be unveiled next Saturday on the front of the village hall, which was hastily turned into a mortuary before the victims were taken on to King Edward VII hospital.
Emergency services from West Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire were quickly on the scene of the crash site close to the borders of the three counties.
More than 50 fire fighters rushed to the scene, along with 60 police officers and 12 ambulances.
But they were greeted by an eerie silence at the crash sight and it quickly became obvious there was no need for ambulances or fire crews.
The area was closed by police with security guards posted and early the following morning the gruesome recovery operation began and continued for a week.
Memories of those who were there
The Fernhurst Archives research team interviewed many people about the crash night and their stories are part of the two-day exhibition.
Among them are the memories of young freelance photographer John Fox, from Hove, who was just 19 when he captured the graphic scenes of the horrendous crash, pictured left and below.
He was at a party when someone heard a news flash on the radio that a plane had gone down near Fernhurst.
He had never been to an aeroplane crash before and rushed home to borrow his father’s car. An hour later he was at a press conference in the village. Although the crash site had been closed off, he decided to pick his way through fields in the dark to the site and took his chance with his flashlight knowing it would alert police. But expecting to be told to leave, instead police officers allowed him onto the site.
He said he was not prepared for the horror, which was remained with him.
Retained firefighter Harry Murphy was based at Grayshott: “It was just amazingly quiet – I’ve never known anything like that for such a serious thing. There was no fire, just a little bit of smoke rising from the debris. You couldn’t recognise it as a plane.”
Tony Gilks, a young policeman based in Worthing said: “Trees, four and five feet across had snapped like matchsticks and there was just the wing of the plane resting on the roof of a house.”
Commemorations planned in Fernhurst
It has taken almost a year to gather all the information for the 50th anniversary commemoration of the air disaster and hundreds of hours of research and interviews.
It has been mounted by Christine Maynard with her team of graphic designer Elaine Ireland, Bill Black, Brenda Newman, Bob Smalley and Bob Pennington.
The result is a two-day exhibition on Saturday and Sunday (November 4 and 5) from 10.30am to 4pm at Fernhurst Village Hall.
It tells the story of the accident and its aftermath using official reports, press coverage and personal memories from members of the emergency services and others who responded to the call for help.
A memorial service will be held in St Margaret’s Church at Fernhurst on Saturday, November 4, at midday.
A commemorative plaque will be unveiled at the village hall at 2pm on Saturday as a tribute to the victims, the emergency services and the villagers who rallied to help.
The event has been organised by Fernhurst Archives, Fernhurst Society, St Margaret’s Church, Fernhurst Parish Council and Fernhurst Village Hall. A grant was given by the South Downs National Park Authority.
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