RIVERDANCE 10 YEARS ON: Mob of journalists from across the country descend on Fylde to cover story

The Riverdance brought a cargo of biscuits, timber, and plastic glasses; a huge crowd of onlookers; and a mob of journalists sent from across the country to cover its stranding.

Monday, 29th January 2018, 4:08 pm
Updated Monday, 29th January 2018, 4:56 pm
Andy Mitchell in the Radio Wave studio
Andy Mitchell in the Radio Wave studio

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RIVERDANCE 10 YEARS ON: The frantic final minutes aboard the ill-fated ferry

Andy Mitchell, who has covered news on the Fylde coast for 26 years, described the saga as one of the biggest stories he has reported on.

He was on call, and weather watch, on the night of Thursday, January 31, when he looked out of a flat in Norkeed Court, Blackpool, to see the Riverdance drifting towards the town.

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Former Gazette journalist Rob Stocks

He chased the vessel up and down the coast in a car as it changed direction, even fearing at one point it was going to wipe out one of the resort’s historic landmarks.

“I thought it was going to hit the pier,” he said.

“Then it stopped and started to go the other way again.

“It was like a toy boat in the bath.”

Former Gazette journalist Rob Stocks

Mr Mitchell, now head of news at Radio Wave, watched as the Riverdance’s crew and passengers were winched to safety, and later joined the gang of reporters at Blackpool Airport, where a hastily arranged press conference was held.

He added: “This is one of those stories where the spotlight is on Blackpool and we become internationally famous.

“It became our Whisky Galore story, only in the form of digestive biscuits.”

Gazette reporter Shelagh Parkinson had been working on a big story about the council securing £85m government funding to upgrade the tram track.

A government big wig even travelled to the resort for the announcement, but the tale was relegated to a single column on the front page – dominated by the first dramatic photographs of the Riverdance.

“It was a massive deal because in the past the council had applied for funding and it was turned down, and they had to go back to the drawing board,” Shelagh said.

“And then on the day we were announcing this fantastic news, the Riverdance story happened.”

Photographer Rob Lock was sent to Blackpool Airport the morning after the rescue to photograph the scene from the air.

He said: “It was still blowing a gale, so it was interesting.

“I think we were in a little Cessna.

“There was no such thing as drones back then!

“It was a very surreal thing, seeing a massive ship like that on the beach. I had been to various incidents before but nothing like that.

“We knew the crew had been taken off safely, so we were not worried about them.”

He continued: “For the first couple of days people were walking right up to it.

“I went pretty close to get some pictures – you could see all the lorries had fallen down to one side.

“But then the health and safety people came up and said, ‘You can’t go near’.

“The only thing it was doing was sinking, it was never going to topple over.”

Former Gazette journalist Rob Stocks added: “These days mobile phone footage makes up the majority of media you will see on newspaper websites.

“But back then we all fancied ourselves as TV reporters in the making and I remember dragging the rather bulky kit across the muddy beach to film close to the wreck.

“Tripods and soft sand don’t mix well and shooting a 30 second piece to camera became something of a race against time as the equipment began sinking.

“Passing Anchorsholme now it’s easy to imagine the incident never happened, but it definitely did and I had the muddy shoes to prove it.”