Private jet deaths were accidental

Verdicts of accidental death were returned by an inquest jury today after five men were killed when their private jet crashed into a house.

Pilot Michael Roberts, 63, co-pilot Michael Chapman, 57, and passengers David Leslie, 54, Richard Lloyd, 63, and Christopher Allarton, 25, died after the Cessna Citation 500 suffered a mechanical fault.

The crew on board the twin-engined, Bermuda-registered aircraft reported problems about a minute after take-off from Biggin Hill in south London en route to Pau in south west France.

All five on board died when the private jet crashed into an empty house in Romsey Close, Farnborough, south east London, causing a major fire which destroyed the building.

Returning their verdicts at Bromley Civic Centre, the jurors said the presence of "black box" flight recording equipment would have helped with the investigation into the cause of the crash.

Coroner Roy Palmer said he would be writing to the relevant authorities after investigators said their inquiries were hampered by the lack of a "black box" recorder.

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) had also recommended changing the wording on an inflight checklist and making it mandatory to examine rivets during maintenance checks.

Dr Palmer said: "I will be writing a Rule 43 letter to back up the recommendations already made by the AAIB in the hope that some steps can be taken to prevent this problem happening again and, if it does, making analysis of the problems rather more easy."

The jury inquest heard that mechanical failure was caused after a small rivet head which secured the left engine cut-off lever was missing and could have resulted in the inadvertent shutdown of the left engine.

About a minute after air traffic control gave permission for the aircraft to ascend to 2,400ft from Biggin Hill, Mr Roberts asked to make an immediate return because it was felt there was engine vibration.

Mr Roberts, from Effingham, Surrey, then told controllers: "We have a major problem, a major problem. It looks as though we're going in, we're going in."

Witnesses reported seeing the aircraft flying low above the residential area and a playing area before hitting the house just after 2.30pm.

House owner Edwin Harman was away on holiday but his wife Pat had returned from the break before her husband and was heading home at the time of the accident.

The garage of a neighbouring house and a car parked next to it were also destroyed by the impact and ensuing fire, but no one on the ground was injured.

Dr Palmer said it was "extremely fortuitous" that no one was in the house at the time and it was through "great good fortune" that no one was killed on the ground.

The inquest heard that it was "most likely" that a mechanical failure within the air cycle machine - part of the air conditioning and pressurising system - caused what was believed to be engine vibration which led the crew to try to return to Biggin Hill.

Mark Jarvis, senior engineering inspector at the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB), also said that the missing rivet head could have resulted in the inadvertent shutdown of the left engine, even though as a Category A engine it was capable of operating using one engine.

A bid to relight the second engine was most likely started before the relit first engine reached idle speed.

It meant there was not enough time for thrust to be built up to help halt the jet's rate of descent before it crashed into the house.

The AAIB made recommendations to the US-based Federal Aviation Administration to have rivets included as part of maintenance checks and also to review the wording of a checklist document.

However, the FAA said it believes the current system is adequate and has not acted on the recommendations made by the AAIB, the inquest heard.

There was no evidence of pre-existing defects with the Cessna aircraft and it had undergone an inspection in the January before the crash.

Keith Conradi, chief inspector of the AAIB, said their investigation was made more difficult by the absence of any "black box" recorder on the plane, registration VP-BGE.

The Cessna was not required by law to have had a black box flight recorder but among the recommendations made by the AAIB in the wake of the tragedy was for aircraft of this type to be fitted with them.

Dumfries-born former British Touring Car Championship driver Mr Leslie was a father of two who was Scottish karting champion five times before winning the Formula Ford title in 1978.

Apex Motorsport boss Mr Lloyd, also a former BTCC runner-up, had three daughters and a wife. Mr Chapman was from Shoreham in West Sussex.

Mr Allarton, who lived in Coventry, had graduated from Coventry University with a 2.1 in motorsport engineering and was part way through a Master's degree when he was offered the post at Apex.

Following the hearing, Mr Allarton's father, Richard, said: "There was nothing that surprising and the verdict was uncontroversial.

"It was clearly concerning for us to come down here and find out the type of format we would encounter and the information that would come out.

"Although the verdict was simple, it has taken three years to get here."

He said he would like to know why the FAA rejected the AAIB's recommendations concerning maintenance checks on rivets and changing the wording on a checklist document.

Mr Allarton said: "The AAIB made these recommendations for very good reasons, certainly in relation to the rivet. If you haven't seen these instances in the past, that doesn't mean they won't happen in the future.

"This is the first occurrence of a rivet failure which could lead to further occurrences because these aircraft are now quite old."

He added: "In fairness, I don't think the investigators are saying that this was the cause of the accident. They would say they are unsure of the accident.

"But here is a problem that they are aware of which could be a contributory factor and it could and should be dealt with."

Mr Allarton praised the role of the AAIB and the police whom he thanked for their compassion in their dealings with the families.

Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck stars as prime suspect Nick Dunne in the film adaptation of Gone Girl
filmReview: Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike excel in David Fincher's film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Infrastructure Analyst

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Infrastructure Ana...

Teacher of Learners with Special Needs - Nottingham

£130 - £161 per day: Randstad Education Nottingham: Teacher required to work w...

Science Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Science Teachers needed for s...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments