Crash pilot took ecstasy hours before fatal flight

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The Independent Online

A pilot who crashed his light aircraft, killing himself and a 13-year-old boy, was high on ecstasy during the fatal flight, it emerged yesterday. Robbie Gunter, 34, stalled the Cessna 150 seconds after taking off with a family friend, Jamie Clapp, on board. The aircraft fell 200ft to the ground, killing both instantly.

After the crash at an airstrip near Bristol last July, friends and family paid tribute to both Jamie and Mr Gunter, a devout Christian. But this week a report by the Air Accident Investigation Branch revealed that Mr Gunter had traces of the drug in his blood when he died. The dosage detected meant it was likely that he took ecstasy hours before the flight and not the night before. This could have impaired his judgement and his ability to fly the aircraft safely, the AAIB said.

Jamie's father, Gordon Clapp, 65, spoke of his anger at the findings. "I just can't believe it," he said. "I thought Rob was an ordinary, decent guy. I'm disgusted that he could take ecstasy and take my son into the air. We were friends and I didn't think for a minute he was a drug-taker. He was a practising Christian and did missionary work. He never seemed like that sort of person, I never even saw him drunk."

Soon after taking off in good weather from Clutton Hill airfield, Mr Gunter radioed air-traffic control to say he was going to fly over Bath. Fourteen seconds later, the Cessna plunged to the ground and burst into flames. Witnesses said it appeared to take off too sharply and slowly before stalling in mid-air.

The report said Mr Gunter, originally from Greenock, Lanarkshire, had flown for a total of only 90 minutes since obtaining his licence in Florida in 2002. In January 2007, six months before the fatal trip, his permit to fly solo was revoked after he experienced "navigational difficulties". His solo licence lapsed in May 2007 and he was only reinstated as a pilot on 4 July – four days before he and Jamie crashed.

The report added: "His overall piloting abilities must therefore be considered to be variable, if not marginal. A pilot should not lose control of an aircraft after take-off, even if the engine does stop."