Pilot saves lives by riding his plane into the ground instead of ejecting.

by Chuck Stanley

There was a crash with fatalities at the Shoreham Airshow in West Sussex, England Saturday afternoon. A Hawker Hunter jet fighter was performing a loop, when it did not recover at the bottom of the loop.

Hawker Hunter in RAF markings

Hawker Hunter in RAF markings

The Hawker Hunter is a first generation jet fighter designed and built in England shortly after WW2. It was operational by the RAF in the 1950s and 1960s. The RAF retired the Hunter from combat roles in the mid-1970s, although some two-seat models remained in service as trainers. Hunters were also used as one of the first military airshow display teams, such as the RAF “Black Diamonds.” The RAF finally retired the last variant of this sturdy little jet fighter in the mid-1990s as a result of the end of the cold war.

A number of airworthy examples still exist, some in private hands, and some by the air forces of small nations.

At about 1:20 PM local time (13:20 Zulu) Saturday, a Hawker Hunter T.Mk.7 crashed and burned during the Shoreham Airshow in West Sussex, England.

Graham Peacock, a wealthy oil businessman, owned the plane. He kept it at North Weald Airfield in Essex, England. The airshow pilot flying the plane at the time of the crash was Andy Hill, a British Airways captain and a former RAF flight instructor. Hill survived the crash and is listed in critical condition.

Seven people on the ground are confirmed dead. About fourteen more were injured. Officials said some of the injured might not survive their injuries. A search is still underway for more victims.

The plane did not crash on the airfield, but flew well behind the flight line away from the crowd. It crashed onto the A27 motorway, and all those killed were driving on the motorway. He avoided hitting a nearby college campus by crashing on the A27.

Frankly, I am amazed that Andy Hill survived the impact. Witnesses said he did not eject, but rode the plane all the way to the ground. Those first on the scene found him in the wreckage and pulled him out.

After watching a number of videos taken from different points of view, and of varying quality, it appears he was pulling hard as the plane bottomed out of the loop, because he is at a higher than normal angle of attack. That means the plane was in a nose-high position relative to its line of flight. He tried to pull out right up until the moment of impact.

Amateur video from different angles. Two cameras identified as Cam 1 and Cam 2:

This is not the first time this sort of accident has happened. All four of the USAF Thunderbirds were lost in a similar crash.

The most cringeworthy observation from some witnesses said the plane appeared to “lose power” just before the crash. When an airplane is headed straight down, it is normal for the pilot to pull back on the power. The last thing one needs on the “downhill” side of a loop is more power.

I am sure there will be calls from the frustrati for abolishing airshows, or worse, so what do you think?

About Chuck Stanley

Dr. Charlton (Chuck) Stanley is a board certified forensic psychologist, with interests in aviation psychology, peace officer selection and training, ethics and communication skills.
This entry was posted in Airshow, Aviation, England and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Pilot saves lives by riding his plane into the ground instead of ejecting.

  1. It would have been impossible for Capt. Hill to completely avoid hitting something on the ground. All the deceased were in four automobiles. He avoided houses, a pub, and a college campus. He minimized loss of life and injuries by riding it into the ground under directional control.

  2. shortfinals says:

    Dear Chuck,

    OK, our guys @peoplesmosquito had put our stand up at the Shoreham show, and I have been chatting to a few, as well as looking at video……..

    The general consensus seems to be that Andy had low energy coming into that loop. Looking at the underside of the aircraft, he is carrying a fair amount of flap (there is a 23 degree setting available which is acceptable for ACM up to 300 knots). However, previous incidents would seem to show that unless you clean that flap up BEFORE you hit 300 knots, there is a strong pitching motion initiated which can lead to (perversely) an irrecoverable stall.

    This T.7 was a rebuilt F.4 (following an in-flight engine fire). Like all two-seat Hunters, they had some serious aerodynamic ‘glitches’, due to the shape of the ‘side-by-side’ cockpit. So great were these that a 1/7th scale wooden ‘drop test’ model had to be built, and then released from a hovering Westland Wessex helicopter. The high-speed film of the models oscillations during many tests were used to work out a ‘best case solution’ shape for the real aircraft’s nose.

    (I have attached a photograph of the actual drop test model, which still exists, along with a photograph of WV372 in better days)

    This has been a sad and tragic day for everyone concerned with display flying, and for those who love aviation, and there will be many homes where the mourning has only just started.

    Your prayers for all involved are welcomed and appreciated.

    Ross Sharp

    p.s. Having worked with the Air Accidents Investigations Branch, I can only say that their forensic work is superb.


  3. ann summers says:

    Prayers for those lost and their families – One of my first childhood toys was a metal Dinkytoy Hawker Hunter

  4. Ross, most excellent to see you.

    Chuck, call me whatever term you like. I know these airshows are popular, but 7 people (and possibly more) just going through their day being struck dead because a bunch of folks like airshows? No, just no. If you want airshows, hold them over open water.

  5. randyjet says:

    Looking at the first video, it looks like there was some kind of mechanical issue on the back side of the loop since it looks like he was vertical for a long time, rather than continuing the loop. I doubt he was trying for a square loop at that height and speed. If he were in competition, I would score him a zero on that maneuver.

    As for JoF, the fact is that this could have happened on the way to the airshow since such manuevers do NOT stress the aircraft beyond design limits or anywhere close to it. That is why flight testing which DOES push the envellope as they say, is done in the desert for the USAF. The Navy has some powerful friends that lets them keep Pax River next to DC and clogs up the air traffic as well as putting all homes in the area at risk. THAT needs to change by the way. Get rid of Pax River NAS.

  6. Randy,
    Here is a link to The Guardian photo page of the crash. The first picture shows flap position clearly as he begins the maneuver. What Ross said about oscillations makes sense, and may account for the late pullout if the nose chose that time to tuck under.

    • randyjet says:

      Thanks for the photo. It will take some real slow motion viewing of that tape by professionals who know the aircraft to determine what went wrong. Hopefully they will be ablle to talk to the pilot and hope he can recall what he was doing

  7. wordcloud9 says:

    I live close to LAX and not too far from Santa Monica Airport, so planes of all sizes and types are overhead most of the time. The number of plane crashes in a year is a lot lower than the number of accidents on the nearest freeways, the 405 and the I-10, during one weekday.

    Every time there’s an accident involving a take-off/landing at SM Airport (Harrison Ford’s emergency landing at Penmar Golf Course is the most recent), there’s an outcry to shut it down, but in all the disaster response plans for West L.A, it’s a major staging area for getting the injured airlifted out and bringing in emergency personnel, equipment and supplies.

    There’s no such thing as “Safe,” there’s only “Safer” through better planning and training, more safety precautions and improved safety gear.

  8. At last report, the death toll stands at eleven. Pilot Andy Hill is still fighting for his life. The last time a spectator or bystander was killed at an airshow in England was 1959, but the naysayers are out in force, as I predicted.

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