A Red Arrows pilot killed in a crash shortly after performing at an air show in front of his wife lost control of his aircraft because of the effects of G-force, an inquest heard.
Flight Lieutenant Jon Egging all but blacked out and slammed into the ground after turning in preparation for landing. His wife, Dr Emma Egging, had watched him perform aerobatics at the Bournemouth Air Festival before he crashed into a field.
It is believed he suffered an “almost loss of consciousness” caused by a manoeuvre that involved a maximum 6.3 G-force when breaking formation to prepare to land.
Evidence presented to the inquest in Bournemouth suggested he may have started to recover consciousness three seconds before the crash and that if the plane had been 70ft higher, he would have been able to regain control.
But by the time he showed any sign of awareness it was too late even to eject from the Hawk T1 aircraft.
An eyewitness described the red and white plane coming down in a straight line before it “belly flopped, wobbled and skidded” out of sight.
The injuries Flt Lt Egging, 33, from Rutland, sustained were fatal and Coroner Sheriff Payne recorded a verdict of accidental death, saying: “This was a pure matter of fate on this occasion.”
Flight Lieutenant Chris Lyndon-Smith, Red Two, was flying just behind Flt Lt Egging, Red Four, when the accident happened in August 2011.
He described how he watched his colleague lose height and crash despite desperate attempts to warn him to pull out of the fatal dive.
“It became apparent to me that 179 was going down pretty quickly. I shouted on the radio: ‘Four, check height.’ I then got back on the radio and said the same thing. I think I shouted it out to try to get Jon to react and get his aircraft away from the ground,” he said. “From what I was seeing he was not controlling the aircraft at that time.”
A service inquiry carried out by the Military Aviation Authority found that if the aircraft had been flying 70ft higher it could have made the difference between landing safely or crashing.
Wing Commander Mark Rodden, president of the inquiry, said Flt Lt Egging succumbed to G-force impairment, with inadequate G-force awareness a possible contributory factor. Mechanical fault was ruled out. Recommendations made by the inquiry included improved high G-force training and for some manoeuvres to be carried out at a higher altitude.
Wing Cdr Rodden said Flt Lt Egging had experienced the G-force for a long period of time at high speed, creating the “worst combination”.
Flt Lt Egging’s wife said after the verdict: “Jon’s death due to the effects of G-Force-induced impairment was a tragic accident. I am confident that a full inquiry has taken place by the RAF, and that actions will be taken to help prevent such an accident from happening again.
“Jon was a talented and dedicated pilot, who absolutely loved flying. He loved representing the country as part of the Royal Air Force Red Arrows.”