Man killed in 5,000ft plane fall was SAS veteran

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A passenger who died after falling from a light aircraft was identified yesterday as Charles Bruce, an experienced skydiver who had been a member of the SAS.

Mr Bruce, 46, reportedly held the Queen's Gallantry Medal, and served in the Falklands and Northern Ireland. He died after plunging 5,000ft from a twin-seater Cessna 172 aircraft into fields near Fifield, Oxfordshire, on Tuesday.

The aircraft was travelling from Spain via France to the Northamptonshire village of Hinton-in-the-Hedges. The pilot, Judith Haig, 30, is believed to have been Mr Bruce's girlfriend and apparently tried to stop him from jumping head-first from the plane.

Mr Bruce, whose autobiography was called Freefall, was the first SAS soldier to have parachuted into the Falklands in the war against Argentina in 1982, a former colleague said. His book, published in 1998 under the pseudonym of Tom Read, described destructive aspects of the SAS lifestyle as well as his own mental collapse.

He is thought to have suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome. His book centred on his attempt at a unique world record by skydiving from the edge of space, jumping from a balloon 26 miles above the earth. If successful, he would have been the first man to break the speed of sound without an aircraft or rocket.

But the bid failed as Mr Bruce's mental health deteriorated. In the book, he described looking at his girlfriend as they sat on a plane and contemplating her murder. Reportedly detained abroad in a psychiatric institution, he recovered and returned to Britain where he taught parachuting.

Mr Bruce left the SAS in the 1980s to work as a security expert. He worked as a minder for the television presenter Jim Davidson, who described him as one of the bravest men he had met. "I have never known him to run away from anything and I just can't understand what happened," he said.

Detective Inspector Simon Morton said Ms Haig was "distraught and devastated following the tragedy".

A Civil Aviation Authority spokesman said the aircraft had been diverted to RAF Brize Norton, Oxfordshire, after the pilot reported icing on the wings. When she landed, Ms Haig said that Mr Bruce had jumped out about 10 miles from the air base. An inquest into Mr Bruce's death is due to open in Oxford today.