Pilots presumed dead in plane crash lost control in bad weather
Two pilots presumed dead after their plane crashed into the English Channel at 100mph lost control in dense tornado clouds, according to a report. Lee Rogers and Brian Statham had taken off from Wellesbourne Mountford airfield near Stratford-upon-Avon, Warks, on the morning of April 2.
They were heading to Le Touquet, a seaside town in northern France, when their Piper Cherokee Arrow II lost radar contact before crashing into the sea. Police said at the time the couple had lost control in “abnormal weather conditions” during a flight with six other planes from their flying club.
An Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) probe has now revealed they had struggled after flying in “highly convective clouds” which were creating downpours. Investigators said none of the men were qualified to fly in cloud and they may have encountered severe turbulence as well as rain and snow showers.
A joint response was launched by the French coast guard and HM Coastguard but the plane and their bodies were never found. The AAIB report said: “None of the pilots on board were qualified to fly in cloud. Shortly after this transmission, the aircraft disappeared from radar.
“Evidence available, at the time of publication of this report, suggests that control of the aircraft was lost as it entered cloud. A thorough search of the area was coordinated by rescue coordination centers British and French aeronautics, but neither the plane nor its occupants have been found
“It is likely that the aircraft was substantially damaged on impact with the sea. It is very dangerous to enter clouds when not suitably qualified or when not in current instrument flight practice.
“The radar evidence suggests the aircraft struck the water with a high rate of descent and the seat damage that was discovered suggests the aircraft was subjected to considerable forces and substantial disturbance. It is therefore unlikely that the occupants had a chance to escape the aircraft.”
The two friends, who met at South Warwickshire flying school about ten years ago, disappeared about 20 nautical miles west of Le Touquet. Mr Rogers posted a video of them flying over the channel before their plane disappeared and they reported reports to London that they were in the cloud.
When last radioed, the aircraft was descending 7,000 feet at about 3,000 feet per minute (about 30 mph). At the last radar fix, the aircraft passed 4,600 feet and was descending at just under 10,000 feet per minute (about 110 mph).
Crispin Orr, the AAIB’s chief inspector, said it was a “tragic accident” and reminded pilots of the importance of “pre-flight weather decision-making”. He said the AAIB had investigated “numerous accidents where control of an aircraft was lost under these circumstances”.
He added: “The accident highlights how dangerous it is to fly in clouds when not suitably qualified or when not in current instrument flight practice. ” The AAIB said its investigation would continue to examine operational, technical and human factors that may have contributed to the crash.
Mr Statham, of Solihull, West Mids., was described by his family at the time of the crash as ‘still living to the fullest’. They said: “As competent pilots, with over 20 years of combined flying experience, it was horrendous news to hear that their aircraft had gone missing over the English Channel.
“The families would like to thank the French and English coastguards for their time, hard work and dedication at sea working tirelessly to try to find any evidence, wreckage or clues as to what may have happened.”
The family of Mr Rodgers, of Stratford-upon-Avon, Warks., added: “Anyone who knew Lee will testify to a larger-than-life character who lived his life to the full, a man with a big heart and unrelenting generosity. A skilled and enthusiastic pilot, a lover of all kinds of fast and noisy machines, which also included a new love of yachting.
“He will leave a great wake behind him and will be sorely missed – not only by his family but by his legion of friends and colleagues. Life isn’t fair, but few people leave a legacy like Lee, even though they had a hundred lives.”
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