An aircraft owned by Ariana Afghan Airlines hit a chimney pot of a house, crashed through trees and slid 200 yards before bursting into a fireball after completely demolishing another house as it approached the airport in thick fog.
A total of 50 people died - 48 on board the plane and a couple asleep in the house - when the crash happened near Horley on Sunday January 5 1969.
Miraculously, the couple’s 18-month-old baby daughter survived when two ends of her cot collapsed and shielded her from the rubble. She was rescued when two Surrey police officers heard her cries.
In a statement, 50 years on, this week, Surrey Police said: “Today we are remembering the 50 people who lost their lives after a plane crashed in Horley on its approach to Gatwick Airport 50 years ago.
We are also honouring the bravery of our former officers who were sent to the crash site to search for survivors; to search for body parts; and to administer a temporary mortuary which was set up in the St John Ambulance Hall.”
The baby girl was saved when PC Pat Buss and PC Keith Simmonds heard her crying and pulled her from the rubble of her parents’ demolished house. Three aircraft crew members and four passengers also survived.
Five Surrey Constabulary officers, including PC Simmonds, received the Queen’s Commendation for Brave Conduct and ‘service exceeding the bounds of duty’ at the scene of the disaster.
The award was also given to five local residents and a passenger on the aircraft who returned to the inferno to rescue family members and also put out the flames on another passenger’s clothes.
The miraculous survival of the child found by PC Simmonds in the ruins of a house came about after he heard cries and saw the baby’s arm being waved.
PC Simmonds, who would later attend the survivor’s 21st birthday party, remembered: “I could see that there was a lot of rubble that the tail was sitting on and part of the tail engine was burning very brightly.
“As I cautiously approached I saw a movement which on closer inspection was a baby’s arm.
“She was in a cot and two ends of the cot had collapsed inwards, forming a roof over her. I carefully lifted her out and ran back with her to the lane where the first ambulance had just arrived.”