The tragedy which killed his wife and three children...

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In an instant, former Concorde pilot Alan Atkinson lost his wife and his three children.

As night fell in the Everglades another driver, drink in hand, reversed directly in front of the family’s rental car, sending it into the deep murky waters of a wetland canal. Alan survived; his wife, his 11-year-old son and his twin eight-year-old daughters didn’t. 42 years later, Alan, who lives in East Preston, has now found the peace to write the story of their awful deaths, of his fight for justice and of the way he has managed to survive the decades since.

“The book had to be written,” says Alan. The Innocent and the Beautiful has been published The Conrad Press.

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His point is that he had to survive. “We had put too much into our lives for me to collapse.” As he says, a life can change in a second. The book now offers a deeply moving true story of love and tragedy, of injustice and the courage to endure.

Alan AtkinsonAlan Atkinson
Alan Atkinson

In 1981 Alan took his family on holiday to Florida. The cruellest fate befell them: “I had a wonderful family that I was very proud of and they were destroyed in an instant but the awful thing was that their deaths were never accounted for and that left a big gap. That was the reason I never found peace. I went back across to the States four times and I spoke to the District Attorney twice and I even spoke to the State Attorney Janet Reno.”

But he was met with silence from the Miami judicial system. Where did the rusty old car come from that reversed out of the darkness without lights, he wanted to know. How did it happen? What was in that can of drink in the driver’s hand? He has never found the answers.

“I didn't want anybody to be executed or anything. I just wanted proper accountability which has never happened... a car reversing out of the blackness… he was just there. I would just like someone to have said sorry.”

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But writing the book has helped bring peace of a kind: “A lot of it was in my head and it was nice to get it out. That's the thing, when you talk about something and share it, that helps as did all the people that knew my family and talked about them at the time. That helped, and now the story is out there. Before it was in my head and nowhere else.”

Alan and his family had been celebrating the fact that they were on the point of moving from Scotland to West Sussex at the time of the accident: “We had such a fantastic family. We were doing so well and I know I would have let them down if I had just given in after this happened. I think that's why I was able to keep going. People would say why don't you just commit suicide. I didn't think I was brave enough to do that but we had worked so hard I just knew that I couldn't throw it all away. My coping was a tribute in itself.”

Alan was able to return to flying fairly quickly: “I latched back onto flying and that was my anchor for life. I felt that if I had lost flying then I would have lost everything. The way I found to cope was to compartmentalise everything and to have my time for thinking of the family and then I would concentrate on the job. People would say how on earth did you just stand there but I would say that that would be just too negative. I've always been a positive person and you have to be positive and I had to keep sane to keep the job. Another thing I used to do when I had difficult moments was to pace up and down backwards and forwards. Movement was always a big thing for me, and also to move house. Change was always a big part of the way I coped.”

The Innocent and the Beautiful (RRP £10.99) is published by The Conrad Press and can be ordered from Amazon and all good bookshops.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

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