I am Michael Gatford, a survivor of the air crash that occurred in the early hours of the 1st September 1966 at Brnik Airport, Ljubljana, Slovenia, (then a region of Yugoslavia). 98 people died in one of the most tragic aviation accidents in Slovenia. September 1st 2016 was the 50th anniversary of the air crash.
As explained on the page Returning to Ljubljana: 50 years on, I discovered late in 2016 that in September that year a memorial to commemorate the 50th anniversary had been erected by the Ljubljana Airport and Fire Department authorities on the site of the crash. An unveiling ceremony had taken place on 13th September 2016. I decided then that I would return to Ljubljana to visit the memorial to honour my father and two sisters who had died.
I have always felt that what happened to my family was private and publicly expressing my feelings was somewhat self-indulgent. However, several people have told me that I should write about my experience as this tragic event never gets mentioned in the UK media.
I am using this blog and website to record information, thoughts and feelings that have been re-kindled by my recent discoveries and return to Slovenia, and to possibly connect with others who have been affected by the crash.
The main sections are shown in the menu to the right (or at the bottom if you are viewing this on a tablet or phone). There are links to further pages in each section, either in the body or at the bottom of each of these pages. Comments may be left on this and other pages.
23 thoughts on “Introducing myself.”
I am hoping that you will remember my name and myself. Though so many years have passed I understand completely if it means nothing. I am Anthony Brewer with at that time my identical twin Clive. (he died 30 yrs ago this coming July) Schools Blackthorn and then Heronswood.
One day in September 1966 a group of us were standing outside Ian Aldridge’s house in Cole Green Lane. I recall Ian, James Patient, myself and yourself there. There may have been a couple more including Clive but I am not sure. However I clearly remember us knowing about your forthcoming holiday and the flight to Yugoslavia. As I walked towards Marley road and Beehive Lane where we lived I remember wishing you a good holiday. I have a feeling that you were flying out the following day. But you I am sure will appreciate how time and all that goes with it can mix up the brain amd memories.
Over these many years I have thought on numerous occasions about you and your family. You will not know this but my older sister Sanchia also knew your sister Sheila very well.
We were in Kanska Gora a few years ago and on the way back to the airport in Ljubljana I mentioned to the driver of our car that I knew about the crash and he pointed out the area and talked a little about it and the cause as he understood it be.
The reason for this post to you?
This morning I typed into Google ‘Ljubljana air crash’ as I have done a few times over the years. ( I cannot remember what prompted this even though it was only a couple of hours ago.) However I was so surprised when I saw your name immediately as this was the first time I had seen this post.
I then read ( much of it aloud for the benefit of my wife Alex ) all that there was to read. This included the professor’s medical notes. These I found so comprehensive and very interesting as I have a medical background myself..
However I found much of your words and those of other’s so emotional . I choke up so easily these days and here I was this morning after breakfast having difficulty reading some of this history. Imagination perhaps but I believe I can see you from that time in your photograph on this post? Alex made the comment when I said this to her that I didn’t look too dissimilar to you without my beard?
These next few words may seem strange????
I feel a sense of guilt that I never really followed up on your horrendous situation. I moved away to study in London in Sept that year and so my life moved on and away in leaps and bounds. Even though I kept in touch with Ian Aldridge and a few others when I returned to see my folks at home on the odd weekends I had a new life and that naturally took over. You would probably know that Ian Aldridge sadly died in 88 ironically the same year as my dear brother Clive. That year after Clive passing I went back later to see Ian only to meet his parents ( who I knew very well anyway) who then had to tell me their sad news.
I never returned to live in the Garden City but worked in London and moved around the country eventually moving here with my wife In Solihull. We have been here 43 yrs now and have children and grandchildren.
This is so much more that I intended to write Michael. If this means nothing to you and it may not as memories fade and go then just delete it all. However although it may in that case be rather one sided it has been strangely good for me to make contact.
It would be lovely to hear from you if you remember me or that time. I obviously have no idea if this is the case.
May I say that it is so good to read about you now albeit over 50 years later than my last memories.
My kindest regards
Long time no see. Of course I remember you and Clive. I’ve checked with my cousin Teri (Wilton) who replied
“They are twins (that’s you and Clive). We had you and Janette, those two and Pam and Pauline Green all in same class. The Brewer twins and Green twins were identical.”.
We were all in Mr Morgan’s 4th year class. I remember that you used to live in Beehive Lane, near the entrance to the King George Vth Playing Fields and Hatfield Hyde Cricket Club, I believe. I even remember the meeting with you, Ian and James. I did keep in touch with Ian and James in the year after the crash, but we drifted apart after I went to university in London. I remember the summer of 1966 very fondly as I had lost contact with my primary school friends since going to St Albans School in 1959 instead of the WGC High School that I would have preferred, and was just remaking friends. Do you remember Dick Leith, Bob Cochrane and Bob Brewer? Dick was in our Blackthorn class but the two Bobs went to a different primary school and then Heronswood. I played cricket with them for Hatfield Hyde CC.
I am so sorry to hear that Clive died so young. It must’ve been very hard for both you and parents. Losing a child / sibling is never easy. I’m sorry if that sounds a bit trite
I’ll write to you again soon. After all, remaking contacts and “meeting” strangers who were also affected by the crash is one of the main purposes of writing the blog.
I think I was known as Mick in those days although after being told by a South African in a hostel in Lisbon in 1969 what he used it as slang for I have not used that version of my name since.
Very kindest regards and thank you so much for taking the time to respond.
I guess this will be a bolt out of the blue and I’m not quite sure why I was surfing 1966 events but I came across your name and this page.
We were close in the late 60’s , I played on the same Hatfield Hyde colts team and although I was a year younger I was at school with Bob Brewer, Bob Cochrane, Ian Aldridge . I have seen the two Bob’s in the last five years but like you I went off to uni after school and I rarely returned to WGC thereafter.
Rather than drone on if you would like to make contact drop me a line and we can arrange a catch up call.
Ps my father (Jack) who used to umpire at the Hyde and live in Welwyn for nearly 60 years died earlier this year at the ripe age of 99.
It’s really good to hear from you and I do remember you well. After the air crash we used to knock around a lot together. I spent many hours round your house (I’m trying to remember where it was – The Commons?) in 1967. I remember your mother (Molly), your father, your sister (Trenna?) and also, not so well, your brother. I did really value your friendship. We went on holidays to the Isle of Wight in 1967 and to Portugal in 1969 with a friend of yours from Nottingham University.. I think you, like me, were known as Mick in those days. I think the last time we met was around 1977 in a pub near Camden Lock and you came back to our house in Crouch End with my friend Eric and his friend Chris.
As you say, lets catch up for a chat. This will go on the blog. I’ll email you separately with other contact details.
Very best wishes,
Hello I was very pleased indeed to find your blog. I Google this air crash from time to time. My aunt Elaine Johnson was an air hostess on the plane. She was only 21 when she was killed in the crash. I was only 12 at the time. Anything you can tell me would be much appreciated
Thanks for responding. It has taken me a long time to get around to doing something like this and the comments I have received have been very heartwarming. If blogging had been around 50 years ago perhaps I would’ve started the process sooner. I suppose you’ve seen newspaper cuttings from 1966. I have one of the Guardian of September 3rd 1966 in which your aunt is mentioned. I can send this if you want. Did you also follow the link:
Towards the bottom of the page is a video of the ceremony and some footage taken after the crash. This is mostly in Slovenian but there is a speech by the son of Jean Chapman, the only one of the four air hostesses who survived.
If you read the contribution by Carole Bell-Court who was also a survivor and contacted me through the blog, you will see on her second page, https://brnik-1-9-1966.com/memories-of-another-survivor/carole-bell-courts-memories-part-2/ a mention of a very brave air hostess. There were only four on the plane and three died. Perhaps this was your aunt.
If there’s anything else I can tell you please don’t hesitate to contact me.
Very best wishes,
I hope you will forgive a complete stranger contacting you, but I came across your site while doing some research in connection with my work as a transport consultant, and I was very touched by the accounts both of your experiences and those of your family and friends and the other survivors.
It also brought back memories, and raised a spooky coincidence. You have never known me, but I remember seeing you in my first year at St. Albans School in 1966-67. You were walking on crutches, and there was a lot of talk among the boys about what had happened to you. I also remember Frank Kilvington mentioning you during morning prayers in the Old Hall.
This raises a doubt in my mind, as, if you started in 1959, you would have left at the end of the Summer Term 1966. Did you revisit the school after that, or is my memory playing tricks? Whatever, your name has remained in my memory ever since.
As to the coincidence, at that time we lived at 62 Beehive Lane, next door (in fact, in the other half of the semi-detached house) to Anthony and Clive Brewer, of whom I also have vivid memories. One of them, or their sister Sanchia, used to babysit us when we were very young, and we stayed for a while with their father Claude and stepmother Ethel in Holland-on-Sea after our dad disappeared in 1970. A small world indeed.
Anyway, it was very moving reading your experiences, and please accept my very best wishes for you and your family.
Many thanks for your response. You do remember correctly: I returned to School for the Christmas term in what would have been the Third Year Sixth. In those days it was typical of pupils to spend some time studying after the end of the Upper Sixth to take Cambridge or Oxford entrance exams. I had always intended to stay on for that extra term although, not returning to School until about mid-October, my attempt at the exams was not very successful.
What a coincidence that you knew Anthony & Clive Brewer. As you have probably seen Anthony and I have been in contact over this blog (https://brnik-1-9-1966.com/2017/07/09/first-blog-post/).
I will reply more fully soon.
All the very best,
This is my second text to your blog I have to admit I was totally confused so this second text will be very short
I was extremely interested to read the post fro Bernard Hulland my old next door neighbour from Beehive lane WGC
Can I ask you to pass on my email address so we can make direct contact if he so chooses
Thank you very much
I hope you are well and find your blog meaningful and helpful.
Ps I hope you don’t find my request cheeky or hijacking???
I hope you’re keeping well.
I most certainly will pass your email address on to Bernard Hulland although he will see it in this post. It was an amazingly coincidental message from him. I have responded to him which you will see towards the end of the Introducing Myself page (https://brnik-1-9-1966.com/2017/07/09/first-blog-post/).
I don’t know if you ever get back to WGC these days but I have a friend from London who has moved to Essendon and whose son now lives in Wheatley Close in WGC (I used to live at 42 Wellcroft Road at the end of Wellcroft Close, two or three hundred yards from Wheatley Close). I went to visit my friend earlier this year and he took me on a trip round WGC. It was quite strange sitting outside my old house and seeing how much has changed and how much is still the same. The Heronswood School site is now covered with housing. The Woodman pub in Colegreen Lane, a couple of hundred yards from Ian Aldridge’s old house, is now The Chieftain although the Woodhall shooping parade still looks about the same. It was a very strange experience not having been back to WGC for 35 years!
Forgive any typing errors and spelling as my fingers do not always hit the correct keys
Thank for your response and for passing on my email to Bernard Hulland. That will be very interesting to make contact.
As for trips back to the Garden. City???
Where does one start? I left in 68 to go to London and returned frequently to see family and friends. Forgive me I have already mentioned some of this on a previous blog.
However the way you mention it being strange to see your old house and environs I can understand how you might feel with my feelings. Please don’t think that I can come anywhere near how the emotions might be for you with such tragedy in your past.
For me when I first returned to see Ian and other friends just after my brother Clive died only to learn from Mrs Aldridge that Ian had died also I have to admit finding all this extremely difficult.
I have been back on one occasion with my sisters Brenda and Sanchia and subsequently a couple of times on my own and also with my wife that I find a massive hole in the visit. Wishing I wasn’t there.
It may sound obvious to you with your history so I am sure you would appreciate the emptiness where ever I look.
Having Clive with me all that time in WGC in those growing years I still cannot reconcile being there without him. He died 31yrs ago Michael but even though we have “moved “ on with our lives ,married ,children and grandchildren that loss is always there. Always.
I am at the moment sitting in a small hotel in a beautiful area of Austria unknown to me. I have come away for a couple of weeks cycle touring while my lovely Alex is out in Australia babysitting our two grandchildren from our daughter Carolyn who lives on the Sunshine Coast.
So to have received this contact from you and indirectly Bernard has been a great joy to me. I am making my way along the river Murr towards Graz where I hope to catch a train on Wednesday to Salzburg to fly home on Thursday.
We were in Australia in April for my birthday and we are going back on Dec for 5wks. Must be bonkers as it is so hot but the children are still of the age where they believe in Father Christmas (as I do!). Hey ho they soon grow up and won’t be wanting or needing us so much and we might not be able to pop over there. Alex doesn’t seem to mind the flights but I loath them so I only tend to go once a yr.
Gosh I have rambled on so that must be more than enough for you to cope with.
My fondest regards to Michael and thank you for coming back to me
I still don’t understand these blog things!
Dear Mr. Gatford!
I came by your blog while searching about the Brnik plane crash that occurred in 1966. Even though the sad events, I was really glad to find your blog with writings about it. And all the love shown by you and others!!
I hope you don’t mind a complete stranger contacting you. My name is Saša Ribič and I come from Slovenia, more specific, from the small village Lahovče, where the plane crash actually took place. Although I belong to the younger generation and can’t possibly remember anything from that time, I still am constantly in touch with the people from my village that eyewitnessed the crash. It draws my attention and moves me every time I hear about it… so, I decided to collect memories, writings, and information together and since I’m a photography student, do a story about it.
I kindly ask you, would you be prepared to be a part of it? It would mean so much to me, to hear the story from someone like you!
If you are interested, here is my e-mail, where you can also contact me for more informations: firstname.lastname@example.org
Wish you all the best,
We do not know each other but I wanted to write to you as I knew your sister, Sheila.
I’ve been reading your blogs as I have been researching 1966 when I was fortunate to have been to all of the World Cup games at Wembley during that July. July the 30th 1966 was a real highlight when England won the cup but it was a tremendous sadness to hear of the air crash just a month later.
I remember Sheila’s wonderfully cheerful personality.
We had been at WGC College of Further Education in the early 60’s.
After leaving college I took a keen interest in portrait photography and along with Sheila’s friend, Janet (who was also at CoFE) they had both sat for photographs that I took in a makeshift studio at my parent’s home in North Mymms. I’m not sure if you have any of those photographs? I’ve moved so many times over the years that the negatives have been lost.
Some 15 years ago I did find out that Sheila’s friend is now living in the US, so I don’t know whether you are in touch with Janet?
Thank you for your blogs and your memories.
Thank you so much for responding to the blog. It took me a long time to get round to writing it, even when the technology was available and, although this was one of the reasons I wrote it, I am always pleasantly taken aback when someone responds to what I have written.
During our secondary school years my sisters and I rather drifted apart. I was sent to St Albans School where boys were kept out of trouble by never allowing them time to themselves (games, homework, Saturday morning lessons and very strict rules) whereas my sisters went to Heronswood. I was just getting to now them again when the aircrash happened and to this day never having had an adult relationship with them or my father is still something makes me so sad.
You are the first person who has contacted me because of their memories of one of my sisters and for that I feel so grateful.
I remember a friend of Sheila’s called Janet but I have never been in contact with anyone but a colleague of hers at the BBC where she was working before the accident. I don’t remember her surname but think that she used to live a few doors from us in Welwyn Garden City. I don’t have any of Sheila’s photos other than family ones To my regret my mother got rid of all of my father’s and sisters’ possessions when we returned to WGC after the accident apart from one or two things that my aunt and cousin kept.
I will respond a bit more fully very soon.
Once more, many, many thanks for responding.
Thanks for your reply.
If you are interested I may be able to help you locate Sheila’s friend, Janet, in order to get more background/photos.
My email is email@example.com
I see that you liked to see memories of your sister. I didn’t know her but i remember watching your sister janette dancing at the coffee pot. She was terrific and looked lovely.:)
It was such a long time ago. I don’t remember the Coffee Pot, let alone going there! Although we don’t know each other it is lovely to receive your comments about my twin sister Janette. Thank you so much.
Very best wishes,
Hi. This a bit surreal for me but my beloved cousin Sheila and her best friend Janet died in that horrible crash. Subsequent to that both sets of parents have gone. All are laid to rest side by side in Canley. They were 19. I weep at every visit.
I did not know your friends although, ironically my two sisters who died were called Sheila and Janette.
I hope you don’t mind me contacting you.A colleague of mine in conversation mentioned as a child they where on holiday in Yugoslavia late 1966 and there was an aircraft accident close by.His father was a UK government employee at time and was asked to assist survivors.He has a number of photographs of survivors & dignitaries including one on hospital ward.They look official photos so maybe you have seen them before.Some I would imagine could be upsetting to someone directly involved like yourself but he is happy for me to scan them and forward them.I was aware of accident as I had long career in aviation and I offered to try and locate information on line.Again I hope you don’t mind my intrusion to a very personal part of you life.
It was very kind of you to respond to the blog. It’s funny but I can remember so many things about being in the ward but only vague recollections of what it looked like. I did visit the old hospital in 2017 when I visited Ljubljana but didn’t really look into any wards as it was still in use.
I would be most interested in seeing any photos that you have; I might even recognise some people.
Thank you for the reply.I have scanned the photos can I upload to this blog or do I send them to you.Sorry not the most tech savvy person.Thank you,
That is so kind of you. I’m not sure if there is a file upload option so you can try emailing them to: