18 June 1972 saw one of the worst disasters in the history of UK aviation. British European Airways flight 548 crashed 3 minutes into its journey from London Heathrow to Brussels. All 118 passengers and crew on board were killed. JCI Belgium lost 7 members and 2 spouses, who were returning from the JCI European Conference in Edinburgh and many of whom were part of their national board. Since this time there has been a close relationship between JCI London and JCI Belgium.
Every year a memorial service is held in Staines near the site of the crash. At this year's service, held on Saturday, were representatives from British Airways and the Cabin Crew Association, the Mayor of Spelthorne, the Deputy Chief Executive of Spelthorne Borough Council, as well as one of the fire fighters who attended the crash and the first person to the scene - a local resident and nurse.
Three JCI members came over from Belgium - Dominiek Callewier, Olivier De Block and Willy Machiels. JCI London was represented by Sofie Sandell (JCI London President 2008), Marco van den Heuvel (JCI London President 2009) and myself. Despite the somber circumstances, it was a good opportunity to make new international friends. Sofie and I enjoyed a dinner with Dominiek and Olivier on Friday night and all six JCI members had lunch together after the ceremony.
JCI Belgium set up the Staines Memorial Foundation after the crash to help support the education of the children of the victims of the crash. Today it continues to support relatives of the crash victims, as well as being used to provide insurance for all JCI Belgium members when attending JCI events.
One of the most important and prestigious duties for the JCI London President is being invited to give a speech and present the Staines Memorial Award every year at the JCI Belgium National Awards Ceremony. The Award is the highest honour a member of JCI Belgium can receive, for outstanding services to the organisation and community. I am looking forward to travelling to Deinze to make the presentation in September.
Next year will be the 40th anniversary of the crash. JCI Belgium and JCI London plan to work together to commemorate the anniversary. The ceremony will be taking place at 11am on Monday 18th June at St Mary's Church, Staines. We would like to have as many JCI members from both organisations attend as possible and encourage you to put it in your diaries now.