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Heartbreak of daughter whose Dad died in hot air balloon accident in Turkey

By South Wales Evening Post  |  Posted: May 17, 2014

  • Dr Kevin Beurle with his daughter Angharad at the Grand Canyon in 2007.

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ANGHARAD Beurle-Williams inherited a love of adventure from her father, so it may be little surprise that she took the worst phone call of her life while returning home from an evening out with friends Down Under.

And it is still seared on her memory.

"I remember everything about that night," she recalls. "It's all crystal clear.

"It was one of my dad's best friends, John. He said, 'Is this Angharad? It's John'."

Angharad asked after him before the conversation changed to the trip her dad, Kevin Beurle, had embarked on with his partner Juliet Boas to Turkey.

John said a hot air balloon her father had been a passenger in had crashed, and added: "He's dead, Angharad."

"I have never felt shock in the same way," says Angharad.

"But I thought he was joking. I said, 'That's not funny — is he there with you?' He said, 'I'm not joking'.

"I just kept repeating John's name again and again."

Swansea-born space scientist Dr Beurle died on impact when the hot air balloon plummeted to the ground after a collision with one above caused a large tear in its canopy at an altitude of 150m to 200m.

An inquest held into Dr Beurle's death in Swansea heard that the pilot had acted correctly in trying to slow the rapid descent.

A Turkish air accident report said the probable cause of the tragedy was "attributable to air currents as a result of sudden changes in meteorological conditions after take-off". But the two to three-minute gap in take-off time between the balloon and the one above, which in turn took off two to three minutes after another one, were queried by an expert at the hearing.

Swansea coroner Philip Rogers, recording a conclusion of accidental death, said he did not believe the tragedy would have occurred if the balloons had taken off further apart on the ground or with a greater time lag.

Angharad would wait nearly five years for this verdict, which finally came earlier this month. But back in Brisbane, Australia, in those grim moments of realisation, there was shock to deal with and all manner of things to organise.

"I went into this coping mechanism — similar to my dad in a way," she says. "I had to do all these things as best as I could."

The following evening she boarded a flight for the UK, where she was met by her mum Susan Williams and younger half-sister, Bethan.

"When I walked through the (airport) doors I just broke down," she says.

Her dad grew up on Bellevue Road, West Cross, attended Grange Primary and Bishop Vaughan Catholic School, and then studied at Imperial College London.

During his student days in London he met Angharad's mother, who coincidentally had grown up a just couple of hundred metres away on Fairwood Road.

Dr Beurle got a job with global satellite company Immarsat and went back to academia before becoming a software programmer for the 1997 Cassini satellite mission to explore Saturn.

A statement from a Cassini colleague read out at the inquest said the harder the problem, the more Dr Beurle enjoyed it.

Angharad, aged 30, recalls watching the Cassini spacecraft launching from Florida — and says her dad was always brilliant at explaining concepts.

"When I was about four, he taught me angular momentum (the amount of rotation an object has) on a roundabout in a park!" she says.

Angharad grew up in London but spent many weekends in Swansea when her mum returned here after she and Dr Beurle amicably went their separate ways.

"Swansea was a really big part of my life," she says.

"My dad really loved the sea. He always wanted to come back and be closer to the sea and mountains."

As she grew up she shared her dad's passion for adventure.

They went scuba diving in the Red Sea — a hobby that turned into a source of work for Angharad as an instructor during her later global travels.

Dr Beurle, who was 53 when he died on May 29, 2009, also enjoyed skiing, hiking and sailing.

Angharad says he was very caring towards her half-sister Bethan, now 25, and also his partner Juliet's daughter Johanna, 27, who endured a torrid journey back from New Zealand after the balloon crash.

Miss Boas, the pilot and eight other passengers in the balloon survived. Miss Boas, among others, suffered multiple injuries and had to leave her job as advisory teacher.

The inquest heard that legal proceedings are active against the balloon company involved — a process Angharad has steered clear from.

"Losing my dad was the very worst thing that has happened to me, and I'm still suffering grief to this day," she says.

But at least, she adds, she is not living with physical scars, unlike Miss Boas and the other passengers.

But Angharad says hearing about a repeat hot air balloon tragedy in similar circumstances in the same region of Turkey last year, which claimed three lives, really upset her.

Dr Beurle was cremated at Margam Crematorium. Family and friends then gathered at the Ostreme Centre, Mumbles.

Now that the inquest is over, Angharad, who is doing a PhD in engineering at Cardiff, plans to scatter some of his ashes at Worm's Head in Rhossili.

"He was the nicest, funniest and most adventurous person I have ever known," she says of her father.

She recalls badgering him to visit her in Australia — and he had booked a flight Down Under for a get-together.

But six days before he was due to board the plane, he lost his life.

"I can't believe I was so close to seeing him."

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