The Air Accidents Investigation Branch’s final report into the Shoreham Airshow has found the pilot performed a loop-the-loop manoeuvre too low and did not carry out an escape technique to abort it.
Eleven men lost their lives when a vintage Hawker Hunter jet crashed during a display at the airshow on Saturday, August 22, 2015.
The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) had sought to determine the causes of the disaster and to make safety recommendations to prevent recurrence – not to apportion blame.
The report found the cause of the accident to be that the aircraft did not achieve sufficient height to carry out a manoeuvre – because the aircraft entered the manoeuvre at a low speed and with insufficient engine thrust.
Despite not reaching the required height, an escape manoeuvre was not carried out – though the report states that ‘it was possible to abort the manoeuvre safely at this point’.
The pilot either did not perceive that an escape manoeuvre was necessary or did not realise one was possible at that speed, according to the report. It went on to say the pilot had not received formal training in how to escape from the manoeuvre and had not practised the escape technique.
Shoreham Airshow director Colin Baker said in response to the report: “The thoughts and sympathies of everyone associated with the airshow are with the families of the victims on what will understandably be an emotional day.
“The report clearly confirms that a series of errors by an experienced and fully authorised pilot were the cause of the tragic crash on August 22, 2015.
“The Shoreham Airshow has been an important part of the local community for 26 years, raising over £2million for charity. The organisers always worked hard to ensure the event was both safe and successful.
“Our main aim in 2015 was to do just that, but there are findings in the report that will require further analysis and reflection.
“The report also contains important recommendations for the CAA, as well as the wider airshow industry, and these must be noted carefully.
“Any recommendations made by the AAIB that are aimed at improving the safety of air displays can only be welcomed. The organisers of the Airshow will continue to participate in the ongoing inquest as an interested party.”
The report also identified several contributory factors to the crash, including that the manoeuvre took place above an area occupied by the public, over which the flying display organisers had no control.
The report found that the ‘severity of the outcome’ was due to the absence of provisions to mitigate the effects of an aircraft crashing in an area outside organisers’ control.
Several interviews had been conducted with the pilot, who was not able to recall the manoeuvre.
Lisa Fitzximons, senior inspector for engineering, said during a briefing that while the AAIB were not privy to the pilot’s medical records, his helmet suffered a number of impacts which ‘could well have been consistent with head injury or memory loss’.
The pilot had taken part in the majority of displays in a different aircraft – a Jet Provost.
It was noted that the speed and height at which he entered the manoeuvre were ‘very similar’ to what would have been required had he been flying the Jet Provost.
Julian Firth, principle inspector, said at a briefing that it was possible the pilot recalled the wrong numbers – that he could have ‘mixed up the two aircrafts’.
There were 11 new safety recommendations included in the report, in addition to the 21 already issued by the AAIB.
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is recommended to clarify the point at which an aerobatic manoeuvre can be entered and the minimum height at which it can be flown.
Pilots should be required to be trained in performing relevant escape manoeuvres, it recommended.
On the first anniversary of the tragedy, in August, hundreds of people from across Sussex gathered at Shoreham’s old toll bridge to remember the 11 victims – Maurice Abrahams, 76, of Brighton; Dylan Archer, 42, of Brighton; Anthony Brightwell, 53, of Hove; Matthew Grimstone, 23, of Brighton; Matthew Jones, 24, of Littlehampton; James Graham Mallinson, 72, of Newick; Daniele Polito, 23, of Goring; Mark Reeves, 53, of Seaford; Jacob Schilt, 23, of Brighton; Richard Smith, 26, of Hove and Mark Trussler, 54, of Worthing.
In January, Mr Baker confirmed the Shoreham Airshow had been cancelled for the second year running.