London: Survivors of Battersea rollercoaster crash reunite 50 years on


Survivors of Battersea rollercoaster crash that killed five reunite 50 years on

A cherry tree has been planted which will bloom every May in the park (Pictures: PA)

For the first time in 50 years, survivors of the Big Dipper disaster have come together to remember those lost – and create a ‘new legacy’ for the future.

Five children died after the popular rollercoaster derailed at the Battersea funfair on May 30, 1972.

Nobody was ever prosecuted for the deaths.

Survivors, families of the crash victims and local politicians met in Battersea Park yesterday to pay tribute to Alison Comerford, Thomas Harmer, Shirley Nash, Deborah Robertson and David Sait.

Arun Thacker, who died more recently after suffering terrible head injuries in the crash, was also remembered.

Victoria Comerford, whose sister Alison died in the crash, said she would never know ‘how her parents coped with losing their daughter.’

She added: ‘Up until now the only vivid memory of the day it happened was the local police coming into my parents’ shop.

‘They said there had been a terrible accident at Battersea, and they escorted them to St Stephen’s hospital in London.’

Alison ‘being remembered and talked about, no matter how raw it can feel’ had helped the healing the process, she said in a speech.


Mandatory Credit: Photo by Daily Mail/REX/Shutterstock (1190258a) Battersea Pleasure Gardens / Battersea Fun Fair Showing The Big Dipper Rollercoaster Where An Accident Happened. It Was Permanently Closed Down In 1972 After Five Children Were Killed And Thirteen Others Injured In An Accident On 30 May 1972 Battersea Pleasure Gardens / Battersea Fun Fair Showing The Big Dipper Rollercoaster Where An Accident Happened. It Was Permanently Closed Down In 1972 After Five Children Were Killed And Thirteen Others Injured In An Accident On 30 May 1972

The Big Dipper was the most popular attraction at the funfair (Picture: Daily Mail/REX/Shutterstock)


Flower tributes before a tree planting and plaque unveiling ceremony for the 50th anniversary of the Battersea Park Big Dipper tragedy, in in Battersea Park, south-west London. Five children were killed and 13 others injured on May 30 1972, when the Big Dipper rollercoaster crashed. Picture date: Monday May 30, 2022. PA Photo. See PA story ANNIVERSARY Battersea. Photo credit should read: Aaron Chown/PA Wire

The names of the five crash victims have been included on a new plaque in the park (Picture: PA)

Christine Nicholas’s brother, David, also lost his life in the Big Dipper crash.

She had sent him off with a kiss on the cheek before he’d excitedly gone to visit Battersea Funfair.

‘He’d gone out with his best friend, and never came home,’ Christine told the crowds.

‘I miss the boy he was and the man he should have become.’

A cherry tree, which will bloom each May, was planted in front of a new plaque to pay tribute to the victims.

It is hoped a larger, more permanent, memorial could follow one day.


Flower tributes are laid during a tree planting and plaque unveiling ceremony for the 50th anniversary of the Battersea Park Big Dipper tragedy, in in Battersea Park, south-west London. Five children were killed and 13 others injured on May 30 1972, when the Big Dipper rollercoaster crashed. Picture date: Monday May 30, 2022. PA Photo. See PA story ANNIVERSARY Battersea. Photo credit should read: Aaron Chown/PA Wire

Flower tributes are laid during the 50th anniversary ceremony yesterday afternoon (Picture: PA)


Christine Nicholas spoke about her late brother, David, and how the loss impacted her (Picture: PA)

Christine Nicholas spoke about her late brother, David, and how the loss impacted her (Picture: PA)

Also in attendance yesterday was writer Bob Preedy, who had worked as a BBC London radio journalist in 1972.

He recalled being called out to cover the disaster and how he struggled to set up signal points so he could broadcast.

He’s since written a book about Battersea Park which delves into the history of the Big Dipper ride and the years which followed the crash.

‘It is very poignant seeing everyone come together like this,’ he told Metro.co.uk

‘And everyone is calm, they’re composed. It’s a very good thing for everyone here to meet each other.’

Questions still surround why 13 people were even aboard what was later to referred to as a ‘death trap.’

The Big Dipper was third-hand when it came to the Battersea funfair, built years before.

A total of 66 faults had been found with the ride but nobody was found guilty of the deaths caused on May 30, 1972.

For survivor Hilary Wynter, she no longer looks to attribute blame.

Instead, she sees yesterday’s ceremony as a ‘positive step’ to the next chapter of the Big Dipper legacy.

As a 13-year-old, she was in hospital for a month following the crash and spent three months in rehab learning to walk again.


Undated handout photo of a young Hilary Wynter, who survived the Big Dipper rollercoaster crash in Battersea Park, south-west London on May 30 1972. Wynter, now 63, Liz Haigh-Reeve, 64, and several other survivors of the tragedy want a memorial erected in the park to remember those who died in the disaster. Issue date: Saturday May 28, 2022. PA Photo. See PA story ANNIVERSARY Battersea. Photo credit should read: Liz Haigh-Reeve/PA Wire NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder.

Hilary had visited the Battersea Park funfair with her cousin, who was also 13 (Picture: PA)


Hilary Wynter

Opening ‘old wounds’ to return to the park and reach out to the others has helped her healing process

She told Metro.co.uk: ‘I don’t think looking for blame is a constructive thing to do. I’m not sure if there’s any point, not now.

‘We want to look forward now, at plans for a larger memorial and at the mental support offered to children who go through things like this.’

Survivors of the crash have been working to improve the support offered for children who go through traumatic events.

Hilary also explained the trepidation she had felt not only returning to Battersea Park, but also in remembering memories she had previously been told to ‘move on’ from.

She said: ‘I was worried when I started I would be opening old wounds.

‘I’m really pleased that although it has been hard at points, the overall outcome today is this love between everybody and the desire to do something in the future.

‘At the time, everyone told us to get on with it, and move on.

‘If we could have had this sort of event five, even ten years after the crash then things could have been so different.’


50 years since world's worst rollercoaster crash Credit: Getty

Five children were killed and 13 others injured when the Big Dipper crashed (Picture: Getty Images)


There was little in the way of mental health support for the survivors of the crash (Picture: PA)

Hilary helped bring together the families from all corners of the globe for yesterday’s ceremony.

A livestream even allowed for Australian relatives of Shirley Nash, who died aged just eight, to watch the event.

Yesterday, families and survivors explained the event marked some long-awaited closure for an event they had been urged to forget.

Janet Hall was 14 when she was caught up in the Big Dipper disaster. Like many others, she was told to put the trauma behind her.

She told Metro.co.uk: ‘I remember the police coming round to ask a couple questions, how much I weighed, but that was it. I never went to court.

‘We just had to move on.

‘I never heard anything, not really, until a few months ago when I heard what Hilary and Liz were doing.’


Flower tributes are laid during a tree planting and plaque unveiling ceremony for the 50th anniversary of the Battersea Park Big Dipper tragedy, in  in Battersea Park, south-west London. Five children were killed and 13 others injured on May 30 1972, when the Big Dipper rollercoaster crashed. Picture date: Monday May 30, 2022. PA Photo. See PA story ANNIVERSARY Battersea. Photo credit should read: Aaron Chown/PA Wire (Credits: PA)

Speeches were held before the group walked to the site of the Big Dipper (Picture: PA)


Liz Haigh-Reeveafter a tree planting and plaque unveiling ceremony for the 50th anniversary of the Battersea Park Big Dipper tragedy, in in Battersea Park, south-west London. Five children were killed and 13 others injured on May 30 1972, when the Big Dipper rollercoaster crashed. Picture date: Monday May 30, 2022. PA Photo. See PA story ANNIVERSARY Battersea. Photo credit should read: Aaron Chown/PA Wire

Caption: Liz Haigh-Reeve paid tribute to the ‘beautiful and talented’ Alison Comerford (Picture: PA)

In her speech yesterday, fellow survivor Liz Haigh-Reeves paid tribute her ‘beautiful and talented’ friend Alison Comerford in her speech.

She also re-iterated the need for better mental health support for children who have been through trauma.

She said: ‘I have been shocked to discover that 50 years on, if anything, the provision of support for children who’ve suffered from trauma is even more limited than it was for us in 1972.

‘We can’t allow this to continue.’

Many of the crash’s survivors struggle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and anxiety.

The majority had no mental health support following the incident, those without injuries were expected to simply make their own way home and move on.


Flower tributes are laid during a tree planting and plaque unveiling ceremony for the 50th anniversary of the Battersea Park Big Dipper tragedy, in  in Battersea Park, south-west London. Five children were killed and 13 others injured on May 30 1972, when the Big Dipper rollercoaster crashed. Picture date: Monday May 30, 2022. PA Photo. See PA story ANNIVERSARY Battersea. Photo credit should read: Aaron Chown/PA Wire (Credits: PA)

Families and friends of victims yesterday left flowers at the newly planted cherry tree (Picture: PA)


MP Marsha de Cordova gives a speech after a tree planting and plaque unveiling ceremony for the 50th anniversary of the Battersea Park Big Dipper tragedy, in  in Battersea Park, south-west London. Five children were killed and 13 others injured on May 30 1972, when the Big Dipper rollercoaster crashed. Picture date: Monday May 30, 2022. PA Photo. See PA story ANNIVERSARY Battersea. Photo credit should read: Aaron Chown/PA Wire (Credits: PA)

MP Marsha de Cordova said yesterday marked a ‘new legacy’ for the victims (Picture: PA)

Battersea MP Marsha de Cordova has vowed to work with survivors to encourage change in the way young people are treated following trauma.

She said yesterday afternoon had shown how those affected can ‘move forward in a really fitting way’ and create ‘a new chapter and a new legacy’ for those lost.

Ms de Cordova told Metro.co.uk: ‘We can look to remembering the five children who lost their lives with a fitting memorial in the park.

‘But we’re also really keen to show that the trauma services and mental health services for children are adequately resourced to deal with trauma, so that younger people never have to go without support.

‘Because that was the case for people here, and that shouldn’t happen again.’

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at [email protected].

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