Mother criticises RAF after Drayton air crash verdict

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

A woman whose son died along with an RAF reservist in an air crash has said the air force "utterly failed him".

Nicholas Rice, 15, from Calcot near Reading, and Flt Lt Mike Blee, 62, of Abingdon, died in 2009 after their plane hit a glider at Drayton.

Julia Rice said the pilot's spinal condition left him incapacitated and her son "struggling in vain to escape".

A Ministry Of Defence spokesman said it had taken extensive action to ensure cadets remained safe.

He added: "Recommendations from the service inquiry into this loss have been implemented."

The jury foreman told the court a majority of nine to one agreed Flt Lt Blee, who was flying the Tutor aircraft, was "dead before the aircraft hit the ground".

She told the coroner that a lack of abandonment training also contributed to Mr Rice's death.

Investigators believe the boy tried to open the aircraft's canopy before it crashed in a field.

The jury of four men and six women took over 11 hours to return a narrative verdict of accidental death.

'Horrendous experience'

Mrs Rice said: "In allowing my child to participate in air experience, I trusted that the RAF knew what they were doing and that they would take care of him.

"It was devastating to discover that they had utterly failed him.

"For me, this horrendous experience has come from the pilot's disability Ankylosing Spondylitis, which meant that the initial impact of the mid-air collision resulted in the pilot's incapacitation and left my son struggling in vain to escape the plane that in fact was capable of being flown back to the airbase.

Image caption Air accident investigators said no-one could have survived the crash

"Unfortunately the abandonment training by the RAF was woefully inadequate for these cadets."

Gp Capt David Lee said: "The tragic death of both Flt Lt Mike Blee and Cdt Nicholas Rice was a matter of profound regret for us all and keenly felt across the RAF.

"Mike was an experienced retired Wing Commander who had served his country for many years as a Nimrod pilot and as a flying instructor.

"On retirement he offered his services as a volunteer pilot to help and encourage young people gain a valuable experience of aviation and the RAF.

"He was an officer who was dedicated to and passionate about all things aeronautical.

"I know that Nicholas loved flying and had dreams of becoming an aeronautical engineer and it's clear from the many tributes made at the time by his friends that he was incredibly popular and well liked by everyone."

The court heard the glider pilot, from Portchester, Hampshire, parachuted to safety after the collision at 4,150ft.

Investigators from the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) believe one of the aircraft's wings clipped the tail of the glider.

However, the AAIB told the inquest the damage was not extensive enough to cause the plane to crash.

The inquest also heard there was heavy glider traffic in the area because of good weather conditions.

Alison Thompson, the deputy coroner, said she would be writing to the Civil Aviation Authority about glider safety and to RAF Benson about a safety review in relation to air traffic control at weekends.

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