Surprise donation marks untimely death of brilliant railway engineer

By Geoff Courtney

THE four granddaughters of one of India’s greatest railway engineers, who spent many of his student years in the 1920s gaining practical experience on Britain’s railways, including the LNER and the Welsh Highland Railway, have made a surprise donation to the WHR to mark their grandfather’s untimely death in an air crash 50 years ago.

Grandad’s girls: Two of K F Antia’s granddaughters, Cheryl (left) and Dinaz, at Caernarfon station in August 2010, when they visited the Welsh Highland Railway to see for themselves a line on which their grandfather learned much of his railway engineering trade during his studies in the UK. WELSH HIGHLAND HERITAGE GROUP

The engineer, Khurshed F Antia, died aged 63 on May 28, 1968, when the Convair CV990 aircraft that was taking him from Bombay to Amsterdam crashed just seven minutes after take-off.

There were no survivors, and the crash remains a mystery as the aircraft’s four engines that were recovered were deemed to have been working at the time of the crash, and the black box flight recorder was never found.

Respected author and engineer: Khurshed F Antia, one of India’s most brilliant railway engineers, whose granddaughters’ recent donation to the Welsh Highland Heritage Group has revived memories of his spell at the railway during his engineering degree studies in London in the 1920s. Inset: Antia’s book Railway Track, which remains essential reading for engineering students nearly 75 years after it was published. ANTIA FAMILY COLLECTION

Antia was en route to Madrid as the official delegate of India and continental Asia at a major conference on structural engineering, and tragically he had made a last-minute change of flights to avoid transiting Beirut.

He always prayed at take-off, and poignantly his daughter Thrity found his prayer book at the crash site.

Born in Navsari in west India north of Bombay in December 1904, Antia proved as a youngster to be academically brilliant and a fine sportsman.

After four years at a local school and two years at the English Railway School in Moradabad, he became a student at a Jesuit-run college in Calcutta, where the principal persuaded his father to send him abroad to continue his studies, and at the age of 19 he entered King’s College in London, one of the world’s leading universities, to study railway engineering.

As part of his course he was required to gain practical experience, and so approached light railway king Colonel Holman F Stephens, who suggested a spell on two of his lines, the Welsh Highland and Festiniog railways.

And so, in 1924, Antia arrived in north Wales and became acquainted with both railways and the region’s varied narrow-gauge operations.

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