‘A wonderful man who always helped people’ - Freckleton air disaster survivor dies aged 82

Pictured left, Thomas Sandford. Right, the scene of carnage after a B-24 Liberator bomber from the US Airforce base at Warton crashed on the Freckleton village school.
Pictured left, Thomas Sandford. Right, the scene of carnage after a B-24 Liberator bomber from the US Airforce base at Warton crashed on the Freckleton village school.
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A war veteran who survived the Freckleton air disaster as a child has died aged 82.

Great grandfather Thomas Sandford was aged just seven when an American pilot flying overhead lost control of his B-24 heavy bomber plane and plummeted on to the village and the primary school below.

Thomas Sandford accepts award

Thomas Sandford accepts award

It was August 23, 1944, when Lieutenant John Bloemendal crashed in to the Sad Sack Snack Bar, killing six American servicemen, an RAF airman and seven staff, before the plane crossed Lytham Road and burst in to flames in the infant wing of Freckleton Holy Trinity Primary School.

Tragically 34 children and one of the teachers, Jennie Hall, were instantly killed while four other children and teacher Louisa Hulme later died in hospital from their injuries, along with an American serviceman and three RAF airmen.

Thomas’s son Mark Sandford, 53, says his father had just moved to a classroom in another part of the school when the disaster happened and he escaped unhurt, but he recalled how the time was terribly difficult for his grandparents.

Mark says: “It was an horrendous time for everyone.

“My grandparents went through the worry of wondering if their child was hurt.

“The village was a lot smaller then and the villagers were a lot closer.”

Thomas went on to do national service in Malaya, fighting alongside the Gurkhas, for which he was presented with a medal for his services.

Following his service he worked as an engineer at the former Balderstone Mill in Freckleton before working at BNFL in Salwick and later BAE Systems, then known as British Aerospace, in Warton where he was employed for 30 years.

Thomas married wife Betty, who worked in The Plough public house in the village, in 1962 and the pair had two sons, adopting Mark in 1967 and having Gary three years later.

The couple were married for 45 years before Betty’s death in 2007 and had five grandchildren Jonathan, 28, Abbey 22, Stephen, 26, Owen, 23 and Liam, 21.

Thomas was great grandfather to Crystal, eight, Bobby, 15 months and Ethan, five.

Mark, who runs The New Chelvedon Hotel in Blackpool with partner Tara Betham, says his dad was a well loved man who would do anything for anyone.

Thomas, who was one of five siblings Margaret, Arnold, Elsie and Doreen died in his sleep from heart disease on Sunday, December 8.

Mark says: “He was a wonderful man who was always helping people.

“He was big on DIY and would do it for himself and for others.

“He was a quiet man, he didn’t smoke or drink and always had time for everyone.

“He was just wonderful.”

Mark says at his mum Betty’s funeral, police had to stop traffic due to the huge turn out who walked from the family home to the church and he expects the same for his father.

The funeral is on Thursday, January 2 at 2pm at the Parish Church of the Holy Trinity on Lytham Road in Freckleton.

Freckleton air disaster factfile:

• The Freckleton air disaster which occurred on August 23, 1944, marked its 75th anniversary this year.

• Two newly re-furbished B-24 heavy bombers departed USAAF Base Air Depot 2 at Warton Aerodome on a test flight at 10.30am but due to an approaching violent storm, both were recalled. First Lieutenant John Bloemendal reported to the control tower that he was aborting landing at the last moment and would perform a go-around. Shortly afterwards he hit the village.

• The aircraft crashed into the Holy Trinity Church of England School, demolishing three houses and the Sad Sack Snack Bar.

• The death toll was 61, including 38 children

• A clock in one classroom stopped at 10.47am

• A memorial garden and children’s playground were opened in Freckleton in August 1945 to remember those who lost their lives. The money for the playground equipment was raised by American airmen at the Warton airbase.

• A memorial hall was opened in September 1977 and as well as a memorial in the village churchyard, a plaque was placed at the site of the accident in 2007.