Four die on a family plane trip

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The Independent Online
A man, his two daughters and their young friend were killed instantly yesterday when their light aircraft crashed in a field behind an industrial estate in Derbyshire.

Joseph Smith, 45, piloting the plane, died alongside his daughters Joanne, 12, and Mary Jane, 11, and their friend, Elizabeth Skupien, 11. Mr Smith, a pub landlord, had booked the Robin Aiglon single-engined aircraft for a birthday trip for Mary Jane. They took off from Tatenhill airfield, near Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire, yesterday morning but crashed 20 minutes later.

The crash happened less than two hours after 500 of the county's firefighters went on strike for the second time in a week over proposed cutbacks. Instead of the usual red engines, army Green Goddess fire engines and an RAF rescue vehicle had to attend the accident in fields behind the Staden industrial estate, near Buxton.

The cause of the crash, which happened at 10.55am, has not yet been established. Inspector Royston Smith of Derbyshire Police said: "It appears the aircraft circled around the area. Apparently no one saw the crash. There is no evidence of anyone hearing the engine before the crash at the moment."

Eyewitness Ralph Bagshaw said the aircraft came low over the roof of his bungalow seconds before it hit the ground. "My wife was in the garden and saw the plane," he said. "It terrified her. At first it seemed to be heading towards Buxton, but as it was flying over the edge of our bungalow it turned around back on itself, as if it was trying to land in a field near our home."

Soldiers from the 5th Regiment Royal Artillery crewed the Green Goddess that attended the crash scene along with three ambulance crews.

Assistant chief fire officer Allan Marshall, a spokesman for Derbyshire fire services, said the army had provided exactly the same support usually given by the striking firemen.

Officers from the Civil Aviation Authority will reconstruct the aircraft in an attempt to discover the cause of the crash.