Air Disasters and the Impact of Shoreham

At the Shoreham Air Show, West Sussex, on 22nd August 2015, at Shoreham Airport, a vintage Hawker Hunter T7 Jet crashed onto the A27 Trunk Road, which was busy with vehicles.

As a tragic result, 11 people were killed and 16 others injured. Amazingly, Mr. Andrew Hill, the 51 year old Pilot, was pulled from the burning wreckage alive, but with multiple injuries.

So what went wrong?

Due to the seriousness of his injuries, despite having been released from hospital in September 2015, the pilot, Mr.Hill, is yet to be interviewed by the Police.

Various explanations for the crash have been mooted. An interim report into the crash by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) revealed the loop the loop from which the plane did not emerge before crashing to the ground, began at 200 feet when Mr. Hill was licensed only to perform such manoeuvres at 500 feet and above. The Report also indicates there were “no abnormal indications during the Hawker’s flight”.  It alos states the cockpit cameras showed the 1950’s Hawker Hunter Jet was responding to the Pilot’s control.

Pilot Darren Sharp, who was a spectator at the event, told the BBC he believed the pilot had realised he was in trouble and made a “brave decision” to take the plane down away from the airfield where thousands of people were standing.

Mr. Hill works as an Aerobatic Stunt Pilot and also as a Pilot offering flight experiences to the public the company, Ultimate High. He has many years of flying experience, having worked as a Light Aircraft Test Pilot, an RAF Higher GR7 Instructor, Commercial Pilot captaining aeroplanes and a Stunt and Aerobatic Display Pilot.

The Shoreham air disaster was one of the worst of its kind in recent years. It takes place annually at Shoreham Airport in West Sussex and is run by the Royal Air Force Association (RAFA).  As a direct result of the accident, the Aviation Regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), has imposed new restrictions on Air Shows.  One restriction is that the CAA has banned vintage jets from carrying out “high energy aerobatics” over land.

What needs to be done?

Whilst Shoreham air disaster was one of the worst of its kind, it is far from unprecedented. Previous examples in the UK in recent years include:

  •  1st August 2015, Kevin Whyman, an RAF-trained Jet Pilot, is killed at the CarFest motoring event in Cheshire after his Folland Gnat fails to pull up after performing a low-level, close-proximity pass.
  •  31st July 2014, a Hawker Sea Fury performing the penultimate display at the Culdrose Air Day in Cornwall, crash-lands owing to an engine problem. The aircraft hits the runway before spinning onto grass in front of spectators. The Pilot escapes serious injury.
  •  1st July 2012, former Gulf War Pilot, Trevor Roche, dies at the Shuttleworth Military Pageant Air Show, when he loses control of his 1923 de Havilland DH53 Humming Bird G-EBHX and crashes in a field.
  •  20th August 2011, Pilot, Jon Egging, dies when his Red Arrows Hawk T1 Jet, crashes during Bournemouth Air Festival. An Inquest heard that Eggings was probably close to unconsciousness before his plane hit the ground.
  •  10th July 2011, a North American P-51 Mustang and a Douglas A-1 Skyraider are involved in a mid-air collision at the Imperial War Museum in Duxford, Cambridgeshire. The Douglas lands safely and the Mustang Pilot parachutes to safety as his plane plummets to the ground.
  •  3rd July 2011, a Bűcker Jungmann, belonging to the Shuttleworth collection of historic aircraft, crashes during practice for that day’s display at the Military Pageant Air Show near Biggleswade, Bedfordshire. The Pilot survives.
  •  22nd August 2010, a Swift S-1 Aerobatic Glider, slams onto the runway at Shoreham Air Show, breaking up the cockpit on impact. The pilot escapes with 3 cracked vertebrae.
  •  15th September 2007, Pilot and James Bond Stuntman, Brian Brown, is killed when his Hawker Hurricane fails to pull out of a dive during a mock dogfight at Shoreham Air Show, West Sussex.

Such Air Shows are a common occurrence in the UK, particularly during the summer months. Restrictions were placed on some of the later Air Shows this year such as:

  •  Wings and Wheels in Dunsfold in Surrey, where this year 2 planes were restricted to only performing ‘flight pasts’.
  •  Dartmouth Royal Regatta in Devon, in which a Strikemaster Jets Routine was amended.
  •  Little Garsden Air and Car Show in Cambridgeshire, replaced a Hawker Hunter with a Yak-11 Jet.

The conclusion must be that more needs to be done to avoid such accidents. The tightening of regulations can only be a positive step forward and in turn, will make it difficult those responsible for such Air Shows and accidents , to avoid being found liable for injuries and losses that result.

There seems to be a reluctance to follow the lead of, for example, Clacton Air Show, which takes place entirely over the sea. This would of course have avoided all the deaths of all spectators at Shoreham and as many of the Air Shows in the UK take place over the coast, would seem to represent a very sensible approach.

Other preventative measures, it must be hoped, will be identified when the Police are finally able to interview the Pilot and investigations into the accident are complete and the Coroner’s Inquest can progress.

Gary Boyd, Partner, Hilary Meredith Solicitors Ltd