Dad was only survivor after wife and three kids killed 'in a heartbeat' in crash on dream trip
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Featured Image Credit: Alan Atkinson
A dad, who was the sole survivor of a fatal car crash, which claimed the life of his wife and three children during a holiday in Florida, has opened up on his agony for the first time in a book about the tragic events.
Retired RAF pilot, Alan, 80, wrote The Innocent and the Beautiful to try to deal with his trauma more than 40 years on.
Alan Atkinson, from Helensburgh, Scotland, described how 'everything was fantastic' for the young family, but 'all that changed in the Everglades'.
The dad had taken his wife Adrienne, 35, 11-year-old son, Nigel, and nine-year-old twins, Lucy and Anna, on a trip to the US in 1981 to celebrate getting a new job - and they had the trip of a lifetime.
Tragically, when returning to the airport via the Everglades National Park - a 1.5-million-acre wetlands in the south of the state - their car was struck by another driver who had a drink in his hand and didn't have his headlights on.
The driver reversed at speed into the rental car containing Alan and his family.
This sent the family's vehicle plunging deep into the waters of a nearby wetland canal.
"We were all concussed by the impact of the crash and the car was sitting on top of the water," he recalls.
"I remember my wife saying that the water was starting to come in and the next thing I knew the car was sitting at the bottom of 25ft of water.
"My door was open and survival instinct kicked in. I managed to get myself to the top.
People came and tried to save my family but the car was too far down. Three days after the crash, I returned home alone."
Alan says of the incident: "My family had everything to look forward to but it was taken away in a heartbeat.
"All I ever aspired to be was a father. I married my beautiful wife in 1966 and we had three lovely children.
"Everything was fantastic. All that changed in the Everglades."
Alan eventually returned to his career, piloting the Concorde, but the grieving husband and father struggled to find peace.
Met with a wall of silence from the Miami justice system, no criminal case was ever taken up against the other driver.
"I needed closure, but it never came. I returned to the states several times seeking a prosecution.
"The State Attorney promised me there would be a criminal case, but there has never been any prosecution.
"It became a long battle for justice for my beautiful family and I even embarked on a civil case, but nothing came of it. It felt very inhuman," he says of his decades-long ordeal.
"What happened left its mark on me," he admits.
Alan later moved to West Sussex and, five years after his new partner, Liz, came across old files on the case at their home, he began working on a book to help him 'process the pain'.
"I felt I had to get my story out. It's been hard going, but anyone that's been involved in an accident will relate to the pain I went through and the effect it's had on me," he says.
"I was engaged twice after losing my wife and I was about to get re-married once, but I just couldn't do it," he admits.
"I wanted to keep my family's memory alive. I know many people have happy memories of Adrienne and the kids in Helensburgh.
"There is a wonderful memorial for them there and they keep my family in their hearts."