Accident verdicts on plane crash victims

TWO pilots died in a “catastrophic” accident after their plane crashed into a crop sprayer as it approached the runway at a Norfolk airfield, an inquest has found.

TWO pilots died in a “catastrophic” accident after their plane crashed into a crop sprayer as it approached the runway at a Norfolk airfield, an inquest has found.

Ian Davies, 49, died when the two-seater Christen Eagle plane crashed into the vehicle at Seething airfield on October 29 last year.

Stephen Shutt, 51, the plane's joint owner and a former RAF jet pilot, died in hospital later.

A jury returned verdicts of accidental death at the Norwich inquest into their deaths yesterday.

They were told how father-of-two Mr Davies, a director of Archant, the publisher of the Eastern Daily Press, had arranged with Mr Shutt to take up the aircraft so he could write a feature on how it handled for an aviation magazine while photo-grapher Keith Wilson took photographs from the ground.

As the aircraft approached the run-way it crashed into the crop sprayer, on an adjacent field and being driven by contractor Andrew Hill.

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Mr Wilson said: “It flew around the circuit for a third time. It made a perfect curved approach and I was on the runway to photograph the land-ing. Momentarily, before the aircraft collided, it straightened up, and in a split second it had hit the tractor.”

Mr Hill told the inquest he saw the plane approach the runway and had assumed it had landed. But the plane had actually performed a manoeuvre in which it had touched its wheels on the runway as if landing but then had taken straight off again. He said: “I heard a big bang. I lurched to the right and then I went down again. I couldn't understand what had happ-ened. I had to be helped out a little time later: I was frozen to the spot.”

Emergency services went to the scene, but Mr Davies, from Topcroft, was declared dead at the scene.

Father-of-two Mr Shutt, from Hingham, died in Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge, 24 days later.

Kenneth Fairbank, an inspector with the Air Accidents Investigation Branch, said Mr Davies had clocked up some 2,500 hours of flight time and was qualified to instruct other pilots but had not flown the Christen Eagle before.

He said he could not be certain who was flying the plane, built in 1980 and which could be controlled from the front and rear seats.

Mr Fairbank said the rules of the flying club at Seething, of which Mr Davies had been a member for 20 years, prohibited flights over the airfield at less than 500 feet except during takeoff and landing, while the airfield's entry in the UK Aero-nautical Information Publication made clear that agricultural vehicles were a potential obstacle.

He said witnesses had reported the plane being flown at lower heights than 500ft. But Alan Youngs, a member of the club's committee, told the inquest that Mr Davies had applied successfully to the Civil Aviation Authority for an exemption to that rule. He said this meant that once-a-month flights below that level could be performed, so the flight did not break club rules.

Coroner William Armstrong said Mr Hill could not have avoided the catastrophic incident, even if he had noticed the plane flying towards his sprayer. He had had every right to be in the field.

He added: “October 29 was, we are told, a lovely, sunny day and a day when Ian and Stephen set out to do what they loved doing. It is an awful tragedy for their families that this day ended in disaster. I am sure everyone in this room will want to join me in expressing their deepest sympathies to Ian's wife, Colette, and Stephen's wife, Paula.”