South East Wales

System lessons after Bridgend air deaths

Cousins Katie-Jo Davies and Nikkita Marie Walters (right)
Image caption Cousins Katie-Jo Davies and Nikkita Marie Walters [R] were on RAF "air experience flights"

An inquest into a fatal mid-air crash has heard that no collision warning system was fitted in training planes, despite an earlier recommendation.

Cousins Katie-Jo Davies, 14 and Nikkita Walters, 13, from Evanstown, Rhondda Cynon Taf, died in the Bridgend crash.

Instructors Hylton Price, 63, from Bridgend, and Andrew Marsh, 24, from Penarth, were also killed.

The coroner said it was a "sad fact that only a near miss or loss of life brings a procedure into sharp focus".

The inquest at Aberdare heard the planes did not see each other in time and collided in mid air during a training flight nearly 3,000 feet above the Kenfig Nature Reserve near Porthcawl on 11 February, 2009.

The Air Training Corps cadets were on different RAF "air experience flights" and the planes had flown from their base about 20 miles (32km) away at RAF St Athan in the Vale of Glamorgan.

Image caption Hylton Price [L] and Andrew Marsh also died in the mid-air collision

Recording a narrative verdict, Powys coroner Peter Maddox said in his view the RAF had done everything it could to ensure the safety of its pilots and cadets in its training flights.

The coroner said the pilots were relying on an established procedure called "see and avoid" when their aircraft collided.

The inquest heard that the Grob Tutor aircraft had "known limitations arising from obscuration of the pilot's view from the cockpit by the canopy arch" and "obstruction presented by an adjacent passenger".

The coroner said "on balance these factors contributed to the collision in that they made it more likely to occur".

He added that the small size of the Grob Tutor and its white colour scheme made the aircraft difficult for the pilots to see in the prevailing conditions.

These factors also contributed to the collision, the coroner said.

Mr Maddox said: "At the time of the collision there were no formal procedures in place to de-conflict the flights, either before or during the flights, and despite a previous recommendation to consider the installation of a collision warning system in Grob Tutor aircraft, no such system had been installed."

As a result of the tragedy last week the RAF began fitting the warning system to their Grob Tutor aircraft. Twenty three of 186 aircraft are now fitted with the device.

The accident has already been subject to an RAF and Air Accident Investigations Board (AAIB) inquiries.

Twenty eight of 30 recommendations which included the introduction of a collision warning system on RAF tutor aircraft, have now been implemented.

Speaking after the inquest, Nikkita's uncle, Michael Walters, said he did not blame the RAF and that he thought the UK regulations made flying the "safest form of transport".

He added: "All I ever wanted from this inquest was to make sure that no other family would have to suffer a tragedy like ours.

"The RAF recommendations now being put in place will hopefully achieve that goal"

  • We would like to point out that the coroner did not use the phrase "highly unlikely" as reported in a version of this story on Thursday 13 January. We apologise for this mistake.

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