Pilot in mid-air crash fought to avoid houses

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The Independent Online

A pilot involved in a mid-air collision in West Sussex yesterday was hailed for his tragic heroism by police, after managing to steer his light aircraft away from houses in the final moments before his death.

One resident of Shoreham, near Brighton, said it was a "miracle" nobody else was killed after the 63-year-old local man's aeroplane came down on the Adur recreation ground, narrowly avoiding nearby homes. Though people were in the area at the time, there were no other casualties when the incident occurred shortly before 4:30 yesterday afternoon.

The two crew of the other aircraft involved in the collision were shaken but otherwise uninjured and managed to land their Diamond DA40 safely a spokesman for Sussex Police said.

One witness, 41-year-old Rob Piatt, said he was sitting in a pub beer garden when a bang overhead led him to turn around and see two aircraft parting in mid-air.

"I saw the tailfin of one of the aircraft floating down. The poor pilot was weaving all over the place," he said. "Then the aircraft went out of sight and we were just waiting to hear the explosion. There was no way he could have got out of it. He was going down at such a steep angle and pretty quickly. He did very well to get it to the recreation ground and not crash in the airfield itself."

Mr Piatt added: "It was very near a kids' playground and it is an area that's popular with dog walkers. On a gorgeous day like today there would have been loads of people out on the recreation ground. It's a miracle no one was hurt on the ground."

Superintendent Neil Honnor, from Sussex Police, said: "It would appear that the dead pilot tried to avoid local houses and managed to crash into the open recreation ground." A team from the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) attended the scene

One of the planes involved in the collision belonged to Flying Time Aviation, which provides training for pilots and is based at Shoreham Airport. A spokesman said: "We have never before had a serious incident during the history of our flight training organisation and safety is, and always has been, our main priority."