A WOMAN who was dramatically rescued from Bournemouth’s bus station inferno almost 45 years ago has been able to thank the former PC who saved her life.

Linda Sherwood and her then boyfriend were trapped in the town’s smoke-logged underground coach depot in the early hours of July 25, 1976.

Now she plans to finally meet Peter Owen, who was on the scene before the fire brigade and led the couple out of the darkness as coach windows exploded around them.

Linda – who went on to have a daughter, three grandchildren and a great-grandchild on the way – said: “There are seven people that wouldn’t be here if it hadn’t been for him.”

Bournemouth Echo: Picture: BNPSPicture: BNPS

The Londoner had often wondered about her rescuer and tracked him down with the help of the Echo after reading a story about the fire.

Linda, then 20, was staying in Weymouth for the summer of 1976 with then-boyfriend Ross Strzelczyk. They had spent that Saturday in Bournemouth and missed their last train back.

“I didn’t want to be sleeping on the beach or something and said to Ross, ‘Let’s go into the coach station,” she said.

They got into a coach inside the station on Exeter Road, where BH2 now stands, and fell asleep.

“I think the next thing I remember I was waking up and I couldn’t breathe,” she said.

Bournemouth Echo: 25th July 1976 The day Hants and Dorset bus station, Bournemouth, caught on fire..

“I was screaming and panicking. Ross came to his senses and clearly realised what the situation was. He took his coat off and told me to put it over my face.

“The ground underneath was melting. That was the most horrible sensation.

“There was banging and things started coming down.

“He slapped my face to calm me down but because I was screaming, I’m certain that’s how the policeman realised that anybody was there.

“We couldn’t have been more lucky.

“I didn’t hear the police but the next thing I heard was Ross calling out ‘Don’t come in. If you keep shouting we’ll follow the direction of the voice’.”

Peter Owen had been on patrol when he saw smoke billowing from the coach station.

He knew the place well enough to remember that a handrail ran around the edge, so he made his way 25-30 yards into the building in the darkness before hearing shouts.

Linda remembers being put into an ambulance and taken to hospital. She and Ross later slept in police cells until they could get a train back to Weymouth.

She said the fire had led to her becoming claustrophobic. “About 18 months later, I went to get on a Tube and when I walked down there, I was suddenly back in the coach station. I think it was the smell of the underground,” she said.

“I wouldn’t get on a plane or in a lift.”

Sixty firefighters fought the bus station blaze. Police and the public helped bus staff drive vehicles off the top level amid fears it might collapse into the coach station below.

The station was never in full use afterwards and it was demolished in 1982.

Peter Owen, 77, now living in Mudeford, said it was a “complete surprise” to hear from Linda after almost 45 years.

Bournemouth Echo: Peter OwenPeter Owen

“She said ‘I’ve been trying to track you down for a long time’,” he said.

He still has a letter that she and Ross wrote to thank him.

“I don’t know what they would have done if they’d had to wait for the fire brigade, because they came into a different entrance,” he said.

The two now hope to meet over a meal in BH2, where the bus and coach station once stood.