A brief history of disaster in new Shannon documentary series

Documentary maker, Peter McGarry.

SHANNON Airport is celebrated as one of the most user-friendly points of arrival and departure in Europe, if not the world. But even the crown jewel of the Mid West’s transport infrastructure has seen its fair share of air tragedy.

Peter McGarry, a former aviation worker and Limerick documentary maker, is making a series on the five major flight disasters in Shannon’s history, which claimed almost 300 lives between them.

From the unbelievable tale of the plane that crashed after take-off and wasn’t missed for three hours to the poignant story of the flight that clipped the headstones in Clonloghan Cemetery in Newmarket-on-Fergus before bursting into flames, Peter has uncovered some incredible tales.

“I had previously made a short documentary briefly touching on all five disasters and there was huge interest in it, so I decided to do five separate pieces,” he told the Limerick Post.

“Some extraordinary things happened. One concerns the KLM flight in 1954 that crashed in the river shortly after take-off.

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“No one in the control tower realised it was missing until one of the passengers swam to the banks and crawled on all fours over the mud-flats to get help.

“He reached the airport three hours later and walked up to a group of baggage handlers to tell them the plane had crashed three hours previously. No one in the control tower had even missed it”.

In all, Peter explains, there were five major crashes involving fatalities: the TWA Star of Cairo, which had flown out of Paris in 1946; a Pan American flight, on which just one person survived, in 1948; the KLM plane that landed in the river in 1954; the Alitalia flight that came down in a field in Newmarket-on-Fergus in 1960; and the President Airlines disaster of 1961.

“There was a lot of tragedy involved in all of these incidents and the human stories are what I’m researching now,” he says.

“A lot of what I’ve found through my own research has been hugely added to by people who contact me when they hear about the series.

“I thought I had wrapped up on of the pieces when I got an email from a man who is a keen historian and had a treasure trove of material I could dive into again.”

Peter, who lives in Foynes, has his own YouTube channel where he plans to feature the five 30-minute documentaries.

“I would hope eventually to get these to a wider audience, maybe even through the Richard Harris Film Festival – that would be aiming high, but I like to hope.”