Sussex

Shoreham mid-air crash an accident, inquest finds

Plane crash at Shoreham (picture by Andy Cloke)
Image caption Surviving pilot Robert Rickwood said the "horrendous bang" at the moment of impact gave him nightmares for months

A pilot killed in a crash with another plane over Sussex died accidentally, an inquest jury has found.

Alan Weal, 62, from Goring, died when his Vans RV-6A was in collision with a DA 40D Diamond Star piloted by flying instructor Robert Rickwood, of Surrey.

The pilots did not see each other before the crash near Shoreham Airport last July despite clear weather, Horsham Coroner's Court heard.

Mr Weal's family vowed to take legal action over his "preventable" death.

Speaking after the verdict, his widow Penny, 62, said: "We are disappointed with the verdict but will continue to fight for justice in the hope Alan's death was not in vain.

'Rapid spiral descent'

"Flying was his life and his passion. When he retired he couldn't just switch off from it, which is why he built his own small plane.

"It was his pride and joy. He'd flown hundreds of hours in light aircraft so we weren't worried. He was not a man who would panic.

Image caption Former British Airways pilot Alan Weal had 20,000 hours of flying experience

"He was trained to reduce the risk to other people and that is what he would have done, trying his hardest to miss the children that were playing in the park where he landed.

"It gives us a small amount of comfort to know he died doing what he loved and protecting others."

West Sussex coroner Penelope Schofield only left open a verdict of accidental death to the jury who were told neither aircraft had any defects.

Mr Rickwood, whose plane landed safely, had told the inquest he saw Mr Weal's plane fall in a "rapid spiral descent" following the impact.

The experienced flying instructor described his "utter shock" at the crash as like running across a field for 30 years without incident only for someone to put "a sheet of glass across it".

Mr Weal was a former British Airways captain with more than 20,000 hours of flying experience.

He was on his third test flight of the day following modifications to the aircraft when he crashed.

'Incredibly good visibility'

He was hailed a hero for avoiding houses as he steered his friend's plane on to Adur Recreation Ground.

Mr Rickwood, from Farnham, was flying with instructor student Barnaby Kerr, who was also an experienced pilot.

They managed to bring their aircraft under control after the crash and land it safely on a grass runway at Shoreham Airport.

Mr Rickwood said the "horrendous bang" at the moment of impact had given him nightmares for months.

"The day was one of incredibly good visibility and you could see for 30 miles," he told the inquest.

"It should have been very easy. Neither of us saw anything that caused concern. And just as we were going to turn there was a bang."

An accident report by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) in July concluded that the pilots probably did not see each other.

It said Mr Weal may not have seen the other light aircraft as he took no action to avoid the collision.

AAIB operations inspector Andrew Blackie said there was no radar at Shoreham, with air traffic controllers keeping watch from a tower.

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