Shoreham plane crash: At least 20 feared dead as mother of victim Matthew Grimstone says air show should not have taken place near busy road

'Thorough examination' of aerobatic displays pledged after West Sussex crash

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The Independent Online

Britain’s aviation regulator has pledged to review the rules governing airshows as police revealed that the death toll from the crash at a display in Shoreham could reach as high as 20.

The Civil Aviation Authority said it would “thoroughly examine” the circumstances of the disaster after a vintage Hawker Hunter jet plunged into traffic on the A27 in West Sussex on Saturday while performing a loop-the-loop style stunt.

The promise came as a mother of one of the victims said that the air show should never have been staged near a busy road.

On Monday, Steve Barry, Sussex Police assistant chief constable, said the death toll could rise to at least 20.

"Air shows should be over the sea. It should never have been over that road. It's such a waste," Sue Grimestone, the mother of Matt Grimstone, told The Telegraph.

The first details of those killed were disclosed as accident investigators began efforts to establish what caused the 1950s RAF plane to fail to complete its low-altitude manoeuvre, resulting in the worst airshow disaster in Britain since 1952.

The dead, who had all been on the dual carriageway adjacent to the airfield used for Shoreham Airshow, included two footballers, Mr Grimstone, 23, and Jacob Schilt, 23, who had been travelling to play for Worthing United. A fitness instructor, Matt Jones, 24, was killed as he drove home from work.

 

Sussex Police have said it was “highly likely” that 11 people had died in the impact and resulting fireball as the plane plummeted into a busy junction. The pilot, the former RAF fast-jet flyer Andy Hill, survived and remained critically ill in hospital as investigations continued into whether he had been able to eject at the last moment.

Friends of those killed were among those who attended a special church service in Shoreham, eight miles west of Brighton, to say prayers for the victims as residents said they hoped the accident would not result in the closure of the town’s long-running airshow, which raises money for charity.

The CAA announced it had begun a review after aviation experts said it was “inevitable” it would face calls for the regulations governing air displays to be tightened further.

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Emergency services and crash investigation officers work at the site where a Hawker Hunter fighter jet crashed onto the A27 road at Shoreham near Brighton

David Learmount, a safety expert, said the crash of a display jet onto a busy road was “equivalent to being struck by lightning” and pointed out that air shows were among the most-popular spectator events in Britain.

But others said questions would be raised about the performance of aerobatic stunts above areas such as busy thoroughfares, especially at sites such as Shoreham where the airfield is abutted by the built-up south coast and the North Downs with the A27 running along its north perimeter.

Terry Tozer, a former British Airways pilot and aviation expert, told The Independent: “I think this raises difficult questions for the continuation of airshows at places like this. I think it is inevitable that people will ask for the rules to be looked at once more.

“We must remember nonetheless that what happened was extremely unusual. My personal view is that the pilot ran out of height for reasons we don’t yet know. People come to airshows expecting to see an aircraft do exciting things, not look at a speck in the distance. But the margin of error with these things is minimal if things go wrong.”

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Floral tributes are left near the site where a Hawker Hunter fighter jet crashed onto the A27 road at Shoreham near Brighton, Britain August 23, 2015. A jet aircraft ploughed into several cars on a busy road near an airshow in southern England on Saturday, killing at least seven people, police said.

Britain’s worst-ever airshow accident, in which 31 people were killed when a De Havilland prototype plunged into the crowd at Farnborough in 1952, led to a radical overhaul of safety, including the introduction of the rule that aircraft must never overfly spectators.

The crash, which follows a spate of incidents at airshows this summer, is thought to be the first ever to have caused casualties among those who were not spectators at a display in Britain.

In a statement, the CAA said: “All aviation safety requirements are regularly reviewed to ensure they provide the highest possible levels of protection. Events of this nature are very rare, but we will now thoroughly examine the circumstances to establish if further improvements can be made. We immediately commenced our review processes and remain committed to continuously enhancing the safety of all civil aviation and will provide further updates in the days to come.”

Extensive footage posted on social media showed the moments as the Hunter, a mainstay of the RAF during the 1950s and 1960s, appeared to try to pull up as it exited from its loop before smashing across the A27 at its junction for the Shoreham airfield in a sheet of flame. One video clip appeared to show the plane cutting across the road rather than flying parallel with it.

The burnt-out remains of several vehicles, including a vintage Rolls Royce en route to convey a bride to her wedding, remained on the highway as police and investigators from the Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) continued to comb the wreckage and began the task of removing the dead.

Among the issues that the AAIB will look at are whether the jet suffered a technical failure during the manoeuvre by Mr Hill, described by a fellow display pilot as “more than experienced enough” to fly the vintage plane. The Independent understands that another factor likely be considered is whether an altitude restriction of 5,500ft imposed for the event at Shoreham airfield, which lies close to Gatwick Airport, could have affected the pilot’s decision-making on the height at which to execute the loop the loop.

Police said the number of dead from the crash, initially set at seven, was expected to rise to at least 11 based on information from relatives who believed their loved one was on the A27 at the time of accident. But they warned it is possible the death toll may rise yet further.

The Assistant Chief Constable of Sussex, Steve Barry, said: “The scene itself is incredibly large. A lot of specially trained officers are sifting … so we do need to keep an open mind. But from what we have seen at this stage it is possible that we will find more fatalities.”

Relatives of those killed, who may include bystanders who had gathered at the A27 to try to view the display, paid tribute to their loved ones.

Mr Jones’s mother, Hazel, described her son as an “absolute diamond”, while the family of Mr Grimstone said they had lost “the kindest person”.

In a statement, his parents, Sue and Phil, and his two brothers, David and Paul, said: “ He has been taken from us at just 23 and we still think he is going to walk through the front door any minute now.”

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