Air crash investigators release initial report into Shoreham air disaster

A display at Shoreham Airshow shortly before the tragic crash     Picture by Eddie Mitchell
A display at Shoreham Airshow shortly before the tragic crash Picture by Eddie Mitchell
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The Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) has released its initial report into the tragic Shoreham air crash.

Eleven men were killed when a vintage aircraft crashed onto the A27 on Saturday, August 22, hitting motorists, cyclists and pedestrians.

The AAIB’s report confirms that an inspection of the ill-fated 1959 Hawker Hunter carried out the afternoon prior to the airshow found no fault with the aircraft. On the day of the flight, pilot Andy Hill carried out a pre-flight inspection and signed the aircraft’s technical Log, reporting no defects.

The report describes Mr Hill as being in good spirits and looking forward to the flight.

Trained by the Royal Air Force, Mr Hill was a fast jet pilot and instructor, before becoming a commercial pilot.

An Aircraft Type Rating Exemption (Full) issued by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) enabling him to fly the Hawker Hunter was due to expire just five days after the incident.

The pilot’s electronic logbook showed Mr Hill had flown 40.25 hours in the Hawker Hunter since May, 26, 2011 – 9.7 hours of which had been in the last 90 days and 2.1 hours in the last 28 days.

Footage recorded by two cameras in the plane’s cockpit suggest the aircraft appeared to be responding to Mr Hill’s control inputs.

The aircraft first made contact with the ground approximately 50m east of the A27 junction with Coombes Road. The report describes how fuel and fuel vapour from the plane’s fuel tanks were released and then ignited. The aircraft broke into four main pieces which came to rest close together approximately 243m from the initial ground contact, in a shallow overgrown depression to the south of the A27.

The report goes on to say that investigators are not sure whether Mr Hill attempted to eject from the craft or was forcibly removed due to the significant impact.

It reads: “During the initial part of the impact sequence the jettisonable aircraft canopy was released, landing in a tree close to the main aircraft wreckage. During the latter part of the impact sequence, both the pilot and his seat were thrown clear from the cockpit.

“The pilot sustained serious injuries. The investigation continues to determine if the pilot attempted to initiate ejection or if the canopy and pilot’s seat were liberated as a result of impact damage to the cockpit.”

The maximum height recorded from the plane’s final manoeuvre was 2,600ft at the apex of the loop Mr Hill was attempting.

Further investigation of the aircraft and its maintenance records will be carried out by the AAIB. It will also explore the operation of the aircraft, the organisation of the event with regard to public safety, and associated regulatory issues.