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Friday, August 11, 2006

Swindon's Plane Crash


This is Wiltshire

It was a terrible moment. I really did think he was dead’

THE wife of one of the Swindon Town executives who survived a light aircraft crash has spoken of the moment her heart stood still.

Anita Sullivan, whose husband Mike is the club's marketing manager, was at a charity event when she received a call telling her to ring a hospital accident and emergency department.

"A nurse asked if my husband was likely to be a passenger in a light aircraft.

"I think I nearly fainted and a friend took the phone off me. I was thinking the worst until I was told that Mike was conscious and was going to be okay.

"It was a terrible moment. I really did think he was dead."

Josie Devlin, the wife of club chief executive Mark, was at the theatre in High Wycombe watching her daughter Hayley in a play and so had her mobile phone switched off.

Thames Valley police sent officers to the theatre to tell Mrs Devlin that both her husband and ten-year-old son were in the plane, which crashed as the group travelled back from Swindon's first game of the season at Hartlepool on Saturday.

Ironically the plane came down at Denham Golf Course in Buckinghamshire just yards from the home of Swindon Town boss Dennis Wise.

Both women rushed to Wexham Park Hospital in Slough to see the injured.

Mrs Sullivan said: "When I got there Mike was conscious and knew who I was but he was obviously in a lot of pain.

"I could hardly recognise Stan Devlin as he had such a huge bruise to his head, it had swollen to almost double its normal size."

Also on board the Cessna 310 aircraft was Swindon director Bill Power, his friend Alan and pilot Frank Kratky.

The Sullivans' younger son Jamie, 18, was told of the accident immediately but because of the time difference Mrs Sullivan delayed telling their elder boy Lee, 21, who is working at the Disney resort in Florida.

She said: "I didn't realise but the first he knew of it was when he read about it on a website.

"He rang his brother's mobile and was very cross with me for not telling him."

The couple, who have been married for more than 26 years, live in Langley near Slough.

Mrs Sullivan is a regular at the Swindon home games but does not usually travel away. She said it was the first time the club bosses had used a light aircraft.

"It was chartered by Bill Power and Mike was given the chance to go on it.

"He has said he will never go on another light aircraft ever again. Ever since the accident people have been telling us how dangerous they are but I didn't even think about it before.

"We are due to fly to America to see our son in January so I am hoping he will be okay to go an ordinary plane."

Mr Sullivan, 53, returned home on Tuesday evening after an operation on his broken left arm.

They were very lucky to come out alive EXPERIENCED flyer Sir Seton Wills was stunned after a light aircraft carrying Swindon Town's top boardroom officials crashed on Saturday night.

Three executives and the son of one of them escaped with broken bones from the wreckage of a Cessna 303 after it plunged into woodland on a golf course on its way back from Hartlepool to Denham Aerodrome in Buckinghamshire.

The club's majority shareholder, who did not travel to Saturday's opening League Two fixture, was relieved that chief executive Mark Devlin and his son Stanley, ten, sales and marketing manager Mike Sullivan and director Bill Power survived the terrifying ordeal.

After hearing the news on Sunday Sir Seton said : "I was shocked, it was a terrible thing to happen. They were very, very lucky to come out alive.

"I have not flown to matches but I have done a lot of flying in light aircraft in Africa, in Zimbabwe, South Africa and so on, and I do get very scared during the flights.

"I have had no bad experiences though, touch wood, but I guess you can just get unlucky."


"The first thing I heard was Stan telling his dad he loved him"
By Marcus Leroux
Town executives were rescued from the wreckage of this light aircraft
# Town executives were rescued from the wreckage of this light aircraft

WHEN Mike Sullivan heard the propellers stop he knew they were in trouble.

The Swindon Town marketing manager was discharged from hospital yesterday after surviving one of the most terrifying moments of his life.

He and five others, including Town chief executive Mark Devlin, his 10-year-old son Stan and director Bill Power, crashed to the ground in a light aircraft carrying them home from Town's first game of the season against Hartlepool on Saturday.

As Mr Sullivan regained consciousness in the twisted wreckage of the small six-seater aeroplane, he remembers hearing Stan say: "I love you dad".

Stan was sitting in the cockpit next to the pilot as a treat and endured the frightening ordeal separated from his father.

The passengers had been in high spirits as they returned from Swindon Town's victory and were arranging a night out to celebrate. Then the engine cut out and the plane hurtled towards the ground.

Mr Sullivan said: "I remember Mark sitting facing me and I looked out the window to the left hand side and saw the runway. I said that we were nearly home and at that point there was a bang.

"Alarm bells rang and all of a sudden the propeller, which had been going, came to a stop."

The aircraft lurched from side to side and the pilot, Frank Kratky, shouted that the plane had lost power as he struggled with the controls.

The plane then nosedived and Mr Sullivan recalls Bill Power shouting that they were going down.

For father-of-two Mr Sullivan, 53, the saving grace is that it all happened so quickly he didn't have time to think that he could be about to die.

"We don't know how high we were when we lost the engine, but you could tell it was really very serious straight away from the way the pilot was reacting. But I remember very little. I'm grateful we didn't really have time to think God, I'm going to die'," he said.

Mr Sullivan came round to the sound of groaning, Stan telling his father that he loved him and the smell of trees.

The plane had crashed near a golf course in Buckinghamshire near its destination at Denham aerodrome.

"All I remember then is a bald headed boy looking at me," said Mr Sullivan. "He must have been a paramedic.

"I remember nothing after that until I was being carried through the 13th hole of Denham golf course.

"Even now, I cannot really believe it's happened."

Yesterday, Mr Sullivan revisited the scene of the horrifying crash.

He said he was shocked by the size of the clearing made by the plane and the recovery team who removed it.

He said: "When you look back on it we're so lucky to be here, we really are. The plane could have burst into flames - if that had happened none of us could have got out.

"We played well on the day and we carried on a bit of that luck on our flight home."

He added: "I wouldn't want anyone to go through it. Not many people survive an air crash.

"We were told we may have flashbacks. We will just have to take it each day as it happens."

On Monday Mr Sullivan had his broken left arm operated on. He said at the time that he was aching all over and was having difficulty sitting up in bed in Wexham Park Hospital, Slough.

While the road to recovery may be a long one, Mr Sullivan says the goodwill shown to him, Mr Power and Mr Devlin by the fans has helped them through.

He said: "We're all really chuffed at the messages of support that have come in from the fans - and not just Swindon fans, but even Oxford and Wycombe fans."

The other passengers and the pilot remain in hospital. Mr Kratky is still in intensive care and Stan has had several operations on a broken ankle. Mr Devlin suffered a broken shoulder blade while Mr Power and an acquaintance of his suffered punctured lungs.

# A pilot who witnessed the crash has told the Adver it was likely to be a freak accident.

The pilot, who did not wish to be named, said: "I heard a bang followed by a thump. A passer-by saw it fall into the trees, wing first.

"When it hit the trees it was put level again. I think the trees saved those guys' lives."

He said that the plane could normally be glided home if one engine failed, but if it was travelling below a certain speed it becomes impossible for the pilot to control it using only the remaining engine.


Overwhelmed by kindness of fans
By Marcus Leroux

THIS scene of domestic bliss is just what the doctor ordered for plane crash survivor Mike Sullivan.

The Swindon Town marketing manager is the first passenger to be released from hospital following Saturday's dramatic crash.

He was pulled out of the mangled wreckage with a badly broken arm.

The father-of-two says he has been overwhelmed with the kindness shown to him by Swindon Town fans and the well-wishers who have visited him at his home in Langley in Buckinghamshire.

Mr Sullivan's wife Anita says he was cheered by Town's last gasp victory against Barnet on Tuesday night.

"He's in good spirits. He was really pleased and surprised at the amount of people there,' she said.

"The club said there were lots of people saying get well soon and singing songs about them," she said.

"There have been so many people popping in that I've hardly seen him. But it's great to have him back. We're just amazed that he's still here."

Two youths who were coached by Mr Sullivan when they were under-nines - some 12 years ago - even dropped by to check on him.

"I don't think he can believe the amount of people that have come to see him - they just keep filing in," said Mrs Sullivan.

"I think talking it through with all of those people is helping him as well. He's got a story to tell and he doesn't mind telling it."

It has emerged that Mr Sullivan was warning of the dangers of light aircraft before taking the flight.

He said: "A friend told me light aircraft were dangerous but I made a joke of it saying well if it's going to crash let it be on the way back then at least we will have seen the match.'"

As reported in the Advertiser, when Mrs Sullivan first heard the news she assumed the worst.

But once she had heard her husband was alive she was unable to get in touch with their son Lee, 21, who is working for Disney in Florida.

She said: "He found out on the internet and was really cross with me."

Josie Devlin, the wife of club chief executive Mark, was at the theatre in High Wycombe watching her daughter Hayley in a play and so had her phone switched off.

Thames Valley Police sent officers to the theatre to tell Mrs Devlin her husband and son were in the plane.

When Mrs Sullivan arrived at hospital she didn't recognise young Stan Devlin.

"He had such a huge bruise to his head, it had swollen to almost double its normal size," she said.

Mr Devlin, his son, director Bill Power and two other passengers remain in hospital along with the pilot.

The plane crashed into woods in Buckinghamshire between the 13th hole of Denham Golf Club and a railway track on Saturday.

Astonishingly, it was a matter of yards from the home of Swindon Town manager Dennis Wise.

Pilot is fighting for his life in hospital
PILOT Frank Kratky was last night fighting for his life after a chest infection complicated his existing injuries.

Mr Kratky, 59, suffered severe spinal and facial injuries in Saturday's crash.

He is currently under sedation in Slough's Wexham Park Hospital's intensive care unit and his wife Jarka says it his condition is touch and go.

She said: "He is still very, very poorly. He's in intensive care and is sedated and being kept ventilated.

"They want to transfer him when he has stabilised, but they cannot do it until his condition improves.

"He's got a chest infection and they're trying to stabilise it, but it's touch and go. We're all very concerned and upset, but the main thing is the other passengers are okay.

"It would have been a tragedy if he woke up to be told that somebody didn't make it."

Father-of-four Mr Kratky has more than 40 years of flying experience.

Mrs Kratky said: "The children have been fantastic and have really helped me. Frank hasn't been conscious at all, they sedated him straight away because they didn't want him to move."

Mr Kratky was 16 when he first flew a plane in his native Czechoslovakia.

Mrs Kratky said: "I'm so glad all the other people are doing well and they're all alive.

"We don't know what happened, but we will find out. But what I know is that my husband had 40 years' experience and was a very, very good pilot.

"When I heard I was quite sure something had gone seriously wrong. We have flown lots with Frank - to France, Switzerland, and the Czech Republic.

"He was serious about his flying and he wouldn't do anything silly.

"He was extremely conscientious."

Mr Kratky's 60th birthday is next week.

"I hope he will make it," Mrs Kratky said.

A Wexham Park Hospital spokeswoman said Mr Kratky's condition was serious but stable.


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