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I WAS SAVED BY TOILET CUBICLE; Survivor of fatal air crash talks of disaster.

Byline: Julia McWatt

THE only living survivor of Wales' worst aviation disaster has spoken of his remarkable escape and haunting memories, 60 years on from the crash.

Melville Thomas, 85, has not boarded a flight since he became one of just three passengers to live through the Llandow air disaster of March 12, 1950.

The plane had been carrying 83 people from Dublin Airport to Llandow Aerodrome, bringing home rugby supporters who had watched Wales win the Triple Crown against Ireland.

Melville, who survived the crash alongside Gwyn Anthony and Handel Rogers, spent two days in St Athan hospital in a coma after the disaster.

The keen rugby supporter and his friends had played rugby together at Llanharan rugby club and travelled to every Wales international match.

"We stayed in Dublin and we had two coaches to take us to Belfast to see the game," he said. "We got on the second coach as we wanted to look round Dublin. Everyone was in high spirits when Wales won."

Melville, who still lives near Llanharan rugby club with his wife Betty, said the group was almost forced to get the ferry to Ireland on their way to catch the plane from Llandow.

When their taxi broke down, they considered other ways of getting to the match but the wheel was fixed and they managed to make it, meaning they would have to catch the ill-fated return flight.

The plane, an Avro 689 Tudor V which had been used in World War II, crashed outside a farm near Sigingstone after approaching the runway too low.

Melville had gone to the toilet and had been boxed in by the metal walls. Paramedics found him in the cubicle with serious injuries.

He had a fractured jaw, a broken nose, damage to his neck and cuts and bruises all over his body.

He was taken to St Athan military hospital, where it took four months of treatment before he was allowed to return home.

He lost seven friends in the crash.

"It was the cubicle which saved my life, I'm sure. There were two sisters who looked after me constantly. When I came round I asked where my friends were and they would not tell me that they were dead," he said.

When he came out of the hospital, he was told by his doctor he could not return to the quarry where he worked or play rugby again.

He was in rehabilitation for two months and had to take 12 months out of work.

He kept in touch with both Gwyn and Handel, as well as Sister Katie Crowe, who treated him in hospital. They have all since died, leaving him the only living survivor of the crash.

A plaque has been put up in Llanharan rugby club for the friends which he lost, with another plaque in Sigingstone for all the victims.

He says that, to this day - in the week of the crash's 60th anniversary - he does not know what caused the disaster despite attending a court investigation into the events.

"From what I can remember, there were four extra seats put in. They were fastened down and I was in one of the seats with my mate. The other ones were not fastened properly and they all slipped," he said.

An inquiry was held in May 1950 which concluded that the loading conditions of the aircraft had been over the limit, as four extra seats had been put in at the back. It was these extra seats, which had been bolted in rather than screwed in, which were the seats which Melville was sitting in.

A further court case took place in November 1950, where the airline was fined pounds 50 for failing health and safety checks and ordered to pay pounds 100 costs.

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Melville Thomas, the last remaining survivor of the Llandow air disaster pictured at his home in Llanharan
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Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Mar 10, 2010
Words:652
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