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An Extract from The Premonitions Bureau by Sam Knight

Posted on 3rd May 2022 by Anna Orhanen

An astonishing story of the uncanny that simply has to be read to be believed, Sam Knight's The Premonitions Bureau is one of the year's standout non-fiction titles. Recounting the true story of a maverick 1960s psychiatrist and his band of eccentric 'percipients' who could foretell a range of disasters, the book unspools a narrative of impossible coincidence and unnerving consequence. Read the short extract below to become obsessed by a uniquely strange and addictively readable tale... 


John Barker

John Barker envisaged the Premonitions Bureau as a ‘central clearing house to which the public could always write or telephone should they experience any premonitions, particularly those which they felt were related to future catastrophes’. Over time, the Premonitions Bureau would become a data bank for the nation’s dreams and visions – and issue alerts based on the visions it received. 

The bureau got its first major hit in the spring of 1967. At 6 a.m. on 21 March, the phone rang in the dining room at Barnfield. Barker came downstairs and answered. It was Alan Hencher, the Post Office switchboard operator, one of the Aberfan seers who, like Miss Middleton, claimed to experience physical sensations before a disaster. ‘I was hoping not to have to ring you,’ Hencher said. ‘But now I feel I must.’

Hencher was coming off a night shift and was calling to predict a plane crash. Barker made notes on a piece of Shelton hospital letterhead. Hencher was upset. He had a vision of a Caravelle, a French-built passenger jet, experiencing problems soon after take-off. ‘It is coming over mountains. It is going to radio it is in trouble. Then it will cut out – nothing.’ Hencher said there would be 123 or 124 people on board (‘? say 124’, Barker jotted down) and that only one person would survive, ‘in a very poor condition’. Hencher couldn’t tell where the crash was going to happen but he had had the feeling for the last two or three days. It was as if someone on the aircraft was trying to communicate with him. They were trying to make peace. ‘While I am talking to you, I have a vision of Christ,’ Hencher told Barker. He could see a pair of statues and was directed to the crash by a light flashing on and off. Barker’s notes ran to the bottom of the page and into the corner. On the other side of the paper, he noted that he called Hencher back later for more details, but there were none. Barker passed the prediction on to the Evening Standard.  

Nine days later, a turboprop Britannia passenger aircraft carrying 130 people attempted to land in Nicosia, Cyprus, during a thunderstorm. The plane, which belonged to Globe Air, a new low-cost Swiss charter airline, was on its way from Bangkok to Basel, carrying mostly Swiss and German holiday makers. It had refuelled in India and was on its way to its penultimate stop, in Cairo, when the pilots were advised the airport was closed because of heavy rain. The flight plan suggested Beirut as the back-up option but the captain, a British pilot named Michael Muller, decided to make an unscheduled landing in Cyprus, despite the bad weather.

By the time the plane reached the island, it had been in the air for almost ten hours. Muller and his co-pilot were almost three hours over their time limits at the controls. At 11.10 p.m., the aircraft was cleared to land at Nicosia, but came in a little high. Muller requested permission to make a circuit of the airport and try again. The control tower glimpsed the plane, its landing lights flashing through the low cloud, before it wheeled to the south and clipped a wing on the side of a hill – twenty-two feet from the summit – rolled over, broke into pieces and caught fire.

‘124 DIE IN AIRLINER’, the Evening Standard reported on its front page the following morning. (The final death toll was 126; two people who survived the initial impact were taken to a nearby UN field hospital, where they died.)

At the time, the Nicosia crash was the sixth worst aviation accident in history. Fairley and Barker noticed the similarities with Hencher’s prediction immediately. The Evening Standard published an account of Hencher’s premonition alongside the news coverage that day. ‘The Incredible Story of the Man Who Dreamed Disaster’, the headline read. 

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