Shoreham air disaster: Vintage fighter jet 'flying better than ever' before it crashed, court hears

There was nothing wrong with the plane's system for protecting the pilot from the effects of G-forces, Old Bailey told

Adam Lusher
Wednesday 30 January 2019 18:03
Footage shows devastating moment of Shoreham air crash

A vintage Hawker Hunter jet was in such good condition it was “flying better than it had ever flown” before it crashed in a fireball on a dual carriageway during the 2015 Shoreham Air Show, a court heard.

The Old Bailey was told that there was no problem with the plane’s anti-G system before pilot Andrew Hill took the controls for a flight that ended in a crash that killed 11 people.

The court also heard details of how the 11 victims died when the plane crashed and the fireball engulfed them.

For all 11 men death came “instantaneously”, from “blunt force trauma”, “body fragmentation” or "burns and smoke inhalation".

Hill, 54, of Sandon, Buntingford, Hertfordshire, survived the crash and is now on trial accused of 11 counts of manslaughter by gross negligence.

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

He denies the charges, and his defence claims that during the fatal aerobatic display, 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.

But on Wednesday Fran Renouf, the deputy chief engineer of Weald Aviation, the company that maintained the 1950s-era ex-military jet, told the court that prior to its last disastrous flight, “the Hawker Hunter was in very good shape.

“It had had a lot of maintenance carried out. It was reported that it was flying better than it had ever flown. There were really no problems with the aircraft at all.

“The reports back from the aircrew were that it was a very good aircraft to fly.”

Mr Renouf added that there were no problems with the system designed to protect the pilot from the G-forces experienced while performing aerobatic manoeuvres.

He told the Old Bailey that a fault had been detected about two years before the August 2015 disaster, but had been repaired by switching a part from the passenger’s seat to replace a faulty valve in the pilot’s place.

A replacement valve was then found for the passenger’s seat, Mr Renouf explained.

Those who died in the Shoreham air show crash included: (top row, L to R) Graham Mallinson, Mark Trussler and Maurice Abrahams, (middle row, L to R) Matthew Grimstone, Dylan Archer and Richard Smith, (bottom row, L to R) Tony Brightwell, Matt Jones and Mark Reeves.

Asked whether, when it came to August 2015, there had been any remaining problems with the anti-G system, Mr Renouf said: “No, not at all.”

The prosecution alleges that the real reason for the crash was that Hill made a conscious decision to commit to a loop when he was far too low, and that this was a “cardinal sin” for any pilot.

Support free-thinking journalism and attend Independent events

Prosecutors also say there had been previous occasions when Hill had “played fast and loose” with safety rules, including when his display had to be stopped at the 2014 Southport air show because he had flown dangerously close to the crowd.

On Wednesday, however, the court was read a statement from Mark Jenkins, a senior engineer with Weald Aviation, who said: “I would describe him [Hill] as an absolute gentleman, very conscientious, polite, respectful, very professional, always does things by the book, very safety conscious and never cuts corners.”

Mr Jenkins added that just before taking off from the jet's base at North Weald Airfield in Essex on 22 August 2015, “Mr Hill appeared his normal self.

“There was nothing I could see that would cause me concern about him or his ability to fly that day.”

The trial continues.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in