Oxford

Glider pilot relives Drayton plane crash

Nicholas Rice and Mike Blee
Image caption Nicholas Rice (L) and Mike Blee died in the collision at Drayton in 2009

A glider pilot has told an inquest how an aircraft collided with his glider in the skies over Oxfordshire.

Air cadet Nicholas Rice, 15, and RAF reservist Flt Lt Mike Blee, 62, died in the crash in Drayton on 14 June 2009.

Albert Freeborn described hearing the "alarming" sound of a propeller before the plane rose up from beneath him.

The impact inverted the glider and left him dangling upside down by his straps. He parachuted to safety but watched the glider and plane hit the ground.

The court heard that on the day of the crash Mr Freeborn, 29, had flown from his club, near Basingstoke, Hampshire, to Sherborne, Dorset, and was heading for his next turning point, at Cowley, Oxfordshire.

The two-seater Tutor aircraft had taken off from RAF Benson on an air experience flight carrying Mr Rice, from Calcot, near Reading, and pilot Flt Lt Blee, from Abingdon.

'Alarming sound'

Mr Freeborn, from Portchester, Hampshire, said that shortly before the collision he heard the sound of a propeller.

He said: "It has to be quite close, if you hear the sound of an engine propeller. It's very audible, and alarming as well, because you know it has to be very close.

Image caption Mr Freeborn landed about half a mile from the crash wreckage

"I looked left and down, saw the Tutor very, very close beneath me, then about a second later, to my disbelief, it began to rotate, and rose up towards me.

"At the time of the impact, my head was knocked through into the canopy, which shattered.

"The glider pitched nose-down, looking at the ground.

"I decided I should abandon the glider, and with my left hand opened the canopy, by which time the glider was inverted, it was upside down. My weight was supported by the straps at this point.

"With my right hand I released the straps, I was helped to some extent by gravity, and when I was out of the glider, pulled the ring, and the parachute started to deploy.

"I was aware of the trainer and the glider beneath me, the glider was like a sycamore leaf falling to the ground, then the trainer came into view, not very far away from me, it looked like the engine was still on full power, and there was a trail of smoke.

"The glider landed beneath me and I saw the Tutor impact into a field of crop."

Mr Freeborn, from Portchester, landed in a field about half a mile away from the wreckage.

He escaped with cuts and bruises but suffered post-traumatic stress disorder, the court heard.

Mr Freeborn told jurors at the inquest that he had been gliding since he was 15 and had been flying solo since his 16th birthday.

He said he was a fully rated instructor and held a private pilot's licence and regularly flew light aircraft.

The jury inquest at Oxford Coroner's Court is expected to last six days.

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