Shoreham air crash trial: Pilot Andy Hill made no obvious attempt to stop vintage jet crashing, court hears

'He's dead then' - the remark that the Old Bailey heard one experienced display pilot made to his friend as he watched Andy Hill continue his manoeuvre rather than abort it 

Footage shows devastating moment of Shoreham air crash

A vintage jet just went “waffling down” to its doom without any obvious attempt to stop it crashing on a dual carriageway in a fireball that killed 11 people, a court heard.

Only just before the end was there a “violent pitch up” to avoid the crash onto the A27, Derek Davis, chairman of the Flight Control Committee for the 2015 Shoreham air show told the Old Bailey.

Hawker Hunter jet pilot Andrew Hill was himself badly injured in the August 2015 disaster. He recovered and is now on trial accused of 11 counts of manslaughter by gross negligence.

He denies the charges, and Karim Khalil QC, defending, seemed to try to use Mr Davis’ evidence to support the defence’s claim that Hill had not been in full control of his actions, possibly because the G-forces experienced while manoeuvring the fast jet had caused him cognitive impairment.

Appearing as a prosecution witness, Mr Davis described how he became alarmed as he watched the 1950s-era jet descend while completing a manoeuvre that has been described as a “bent loop”.

Graphic shown to jury details Shoreham air crash which killed 11 people in 2015

“I expected full power to go on,” said Mr Davis. “I expected it [the jet] to accelerate. But it did neither.

“It just continued waffling down at about 150 knots, at about a 45 degree angle.”

Only when the descending jet was close to the rapidly approaching road, did there appear to be a reaction, Mr Davis told the jury.

“When it got to about 100ft above the ground, it did a violent pitch up, of about 30 degrees.

“The violent pitch indicated to me that the pilot had plenty of elevation left.”

This meant, Mr Davis explained, “the pilot had not been pulling back [on the control stick] on the way down to miss the ground, nothing like that happening.”

Under cross-examination by Mr Khalil, Mr Davis said this last second pitch up suggested to him that until the last moment the pilot “wasn’t desperately trying to miss the ground or anything. He was doing nothing.

“[Then] at 100ft there is probably some recovery, his eyes probably opened, and instinctively that caused the pitch up.”

Asked by Mr Khalil whether before that last minute evasion the jet “didn’t seem to be controlled at all,” Mr Davis replied: “That is correct.”

He added: “There was something wrong with either the aircraft or the pilot.”

Under cross-examination, Mr Davis further explained: “There was no noise. He didn’t apply power.

“The pilot didn’t make any radio transmission that he had a problem. If something was wrong, he could just tell somebody: he just presses a button on the control column and speaks.

“He didn’t jettison the canopy [and try to eject]. It [the jet] was making no attempt to level out at 500ft [to comply with air display rules].”

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Mr Davis also disagreed that Hill was attempting a bent loop. He said he thought he was trying a steep climbing turn followed by a steep descending turn.

The court has heard that Hill, of Sandon, Buntingford, Hertfordshire, was so seriously injured in the crash, he had to be put in an induced coma and still does not remember anything about it.

The jury was told that at the crash scene, in order to dull his pain, first responders gave Hill ketamine, a drug that can also induce amnesia.

The court also heard that experienced display pilot Thomas Moloney, watching the jet start the downward leg of the manoeuvre rather than abort it, had experienced “a sickening feeling” and turned to his friend, saying: “He’s dead then.”

Under cross-examination, another witness, Squadron Leader Daniel Arlett, one of the RAF’s most experienced fast jet pilots and an air display colleague of Hill’s, agreed that in the final third of the manoeuvre the pilot hadn’t appeared to be doing much if anything to control his jet.

Using a model Hawker Hunter to demonstrate his points, Mr Arlett said that if Hill had made a conscious decision to commit to the loop rather than abort it, “He would have made a conscious decision to pull through [the loop]. It’s the instinctive thing to do, natural.”

Mr Arlett added: “I would have expected it [the jet] to pitch much more aggressively, but it just seemed to float down.”

Mr Arlett, who had been asked by Hill to critique his display on the day of the air show, told the court that the jet had been far too low to complete the loop.

“We are not just talking about too low,” he said. “We are talking thousands of feet too low. This is a massive, gross error to be that low at the top of a loop.

“I prayed there was going to be an escape manoeuvre.”

Mr Arlett, who has occasionally flown with the Red Arrows, had vetted Hill’s flying ability when he joined the Team Viper display group, the court heard.

He told the court that he had found Hill to be an “expert” flyer and “probably the most diligent member of the team”.

Pilot Andrew Hill is on trial at the Old Bailey, accused of manslaughter by gross negligence (Jonathan Brady/PA)

But Mr Arlett admitted that in 2014 he had to talk to him after his dangerous flying at the Southport Air Show led to a flight director ordering him to stop his display immediately.

He also explained that a pilot’s tolerance to G-forces is easy to lose.

“If you haven’t flown high G manoeuvres for a month, you are back to square one,” Mr Arlett said. “I personally notice it after even a week.”

Another potential problem at Shoreham airfield, Mr Arlett explained, was that the runway was shorter and narrower than normal, potentially giving pilots the illusion that they were higher than they actually were.

“I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve had some bumpy landings at Shoreham,” he said. “You do feel higher than you actually are.”

The trial continues.

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