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Three hours in, 11,000-mile charity flight ends in death

Father fundraising for Help for Heroes crashes microlight en route to Australia

A pilot's ambition to fly a microlight aircraft 11,000 miles to Australia in a charity fund-raising attempt has ended in tragedy.

Martin Bromage, 49, was found dead off the coast of northern France after he tried to fly across the English Channel in bad weather. He planned to take six weeks to fly his microlight to Sydney to raise £150,000 for Help for Heroes, the charity for wounded British soldiers, but did not even make it through the first day.

He set off from Gloucestershire airport at 10am on Monday but about three hours later, when he was over the Channel and flying in poor visibility, he lost contact with the team monitoring his progress. The last signal from a beacon on his aircraft was picked up by a satellite tracking team at the airport at 12.46pm. He was then about two miles from France, flying at an altitude of 3,000 feet at 74 miles per hour.

He made a distress call to French air traffic controllers about five minutes later to tell them he was diverting from his intended landing place at Le Touquet because of the foul weather, and was heading for Abbeville. His body was found in the sea by a French patrol boat, two miles from Boulogne-Sur-Mer, at 10pm on Monday night.

Mr Bromage, from Cheltenham, was an experienced microlight pilot with four flights around Britain to his name. Last year, he flew from Gloucester to Lagos in Nigeria. His website, set up to encourage fund-raising for the flight, said he was a tree surgeon but had recently entered the property business. He had a wife and two sons. He had hoped to visit 18 countries on his way to Australia. Before he set off, Mr Bromage said he was aware of the dangers of sea crossings. He planned to fly 500 miles a day and his trip would have have taken him across stretches of ocean up to 300 miles wide.

"Normally private pilots of any general aviation aircraft in this country think long and hard about a 20-mile flight across the Channel, so a 300-mile crossing in any aircraft is a great undertaking," he told the BBC. "To equip myself for the worst possible scenario I have a life-raft, I have satellite positioning equipment, a distress beacon and a radio. My friends and family are very, very supportive but they think I am criminally insane."

A spokesman for the Dover coastguard said the bad weather had prevented a search-and-rescue helicopter from taking off, adding: "There was dense fog all day. That was why he couldn't land in France. He was trying to come back to the UK."

Mark Ryan, the director of Gloucestershire airport, said: "We are all very very deeply shocked and saddened to hear of Martin's unfortunate accident.

"He was a really good member of the community, well liked and well known and it is truly truly tragic to hear what has happened."