Pilot's final words before jet crashes into Kent house

  • Published

A pilot's final words before his doomed private jet plunged into a house in Kent have been replayed at an inquest into the deaths of its five occupants.

Michael Roberts reported a problem within a minute of take-off from Biggin Hill airport en route to Pau in France.

The Cessna ploughed into a house in nearby Farnborough, catching fire. The home owners were away at the time of the crash, on 30 March 2008.

Mr Roberts, from Effingham, Surrey, and the other four on board all died.

The inquest in Bromley, south-east London, heard that Mr Roberts, one of two people on board who were qualified to fly the Cessna, reported engine vibrations within a minute of taking off.

'Extremely fortuitous'

He asked permission to return to the airport, telling air traffic control: "We have a major problem, a major problem. It looks as though we're going in, we're going in."

Witnesses reported seeing the jet flying low over homes before crashing into the house in Romsey Close.

Home owner Edwin Harman was away on holiday at the time of the crash, and his wife, Pat, who had returned early, was on her way to the house after spending the night at her daughter's.

Coroner Roy Palmer said it was "extremely fortuitous" that no one was in the house at the time and through "great good fortune" that no one was killed on the ground.

With Mr Roberts, 63, on board were co-pilot Michael Chapman, 57, of Shoreham, West Sussex; Dumfries-born David Leslie, 54, a former racing driver; Richard Lloyd, 63, from Brackley, Northamptonshire and Christopher Allarton, 25, of Coventry, but formerly of Newark, Nottinghamshire.

No black box

All five, who suffered smoke inhalation, died at the scene, from chest and head injuries.

Image caption,
Nobody was in the house when the jet crashed into it

The inquest heard that when asked by air traffic controllers what the problem was that prompted him to return to the airport, Mr Roberts said: "Er, don't know, sir. We're getting engine vibration. We'll come straight back."

Moments later Mr Roberts reported the "major problem" during his final transmission before the aircraft started to descend.

Crash investigators said their inquiries were hampered by the absence of a black box flight recorder.

But Mark Jarvis, senior engineering inspector at the Air Accidents Investigation Branch, said the vibration was most likely to have been caused by a failure of the plane's air-conditioning and pressurising system, and that a rivet head missing from the left engine's fuel-cut-off levers could have caused it to shut down.

Dr Palmer said he expected only a verdict of accidental death would be considered by the jury when it begins its deliberations on Wednesday.

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