Coulthard attempts to focus on Spanish GP

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The Independent Online

David Coulthard flew into Barcelona ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix to talk publicly for the first time about a plane crash 48 hours earlier that claimed the lives of the pilot and copilot but left the race driver and two other passengers unscathed.

Coulthard, the No. 2 driver this season's F1 standings behind Michael Schumacher of Ferrari, was mobbed by several hundred reporters and photographers in the paddock as he arrived for Sunday's Spanish Grand Prix.

The 29-year-old Scot described how he and his physical trainer Andy Matthews and fiancee Heidi Wichlinski had climbed out of the fuselage, which had broken away from the cockpit after the jet tried an emergency landing in Lyon, France on Tuesday.

"At this point we established the only way out was through the front of the aircraft, and Andy led the way through the debris," said Coulthard reading from a two-minute statement.

"As this part of the plane was three or four feet off the ground, I followed Andy out so we could help Heidi get down from the jet."

"We had time to prepare ourselves for the landing and got into the brace position. On impact the plane's wing tanks ruptured on the right-hand side and caught light.

Coulthard, who expressed his sympathy to the families of the dead pilots, said he tried unsuccessfully to rescue the two.

"Once we were all out I immediately returned to the aircraft to see if there was anything I could do for the pilots. But there was nothing I could do and within a minute the emergency services had arrived to take over."

Coulthard declined to answer questions after the statement. He and his McLaren Mercedes team also refused to speculate about the cause of the crash that killed pilots David Saunders and Dan Worley. Coulthard, 29, said he was working with French authorities investigating the mishap.

"I hope you understand my professional obligations to concentrate and try to win this grand prix and focus on the world championship," Coulthard said.

Coulthard said he was familiar with the aircraft - a Learjet 35 - but said it was not "the aircraft or the crew that I use on a regular basis." He said the co-pilot told the passengers the jet had engine problems and would attempt an emergency landing in 10 minutes on a flight from Farnborough to Nice.

Like other high-profile F1 drivers, golf and tennis stars, Coulthard logs hundreds of hours yearly in private jets. In one interview he said he spent "three weeks suspended in the air" last year on flights around the world.

Last year golfer Payne Stewart died when his private jet flew out of control for more than four hours before crashing.

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