On Air Now
Heart Breakfast with Tom, Nicola & Jack 6am - 10am
A mid-air crash between two light aircraft which killed a retired British Airways pilot was an accident, an inquest jury has ruled.
Alan Weal, 62, died from head and chest injuries after the home-built plane he was test flying for a friend following its modification plunged into a recreation ground.
Ex-BA captain Mr Weal and flying instructor Robert Rickwood and his student, qualified pilot Barnaby Kerr, who were both in a four-seater aircraft, did not see each other before the collision at 1,100ft over Sussex, the three-day inquest heard.
Mr Rickwood and Mr Kerr managed to bring the aircraft under control and land it safely on a grass runway at Shoreham Airport near Brighton on a clear day on July 4 last year.
The inquest, at Horsham, West Sussex, heard there was no evidence that either pilot attempted to avoid the other, and that there is no radar system at Shoreham.
The family of Mr Weal, from Goring, near Worthing, believe he died 'a hero'' by steering his stricken plane, a Vans RV-6A, away from houses and children playing in the recreation ground.
West Sussex coroner Penelope Schofield left open only a verdict of accidental death to the jury who were told that no defects in either aircraft caused the crash.
Following the verdict, lawyers for Mr Weal's family vowed to consider taking legal action amid claims from his relatives that his death was 'preventable''.
Mr Weal's widow, Penny, 62, said afterwards: 'We are disappointed with the verdict but will continue to fight for justice in the hope Alan's death was not in vain.
'Flying was his life and his passion. When he retired he couldn't just switch off from it, which is why he built his own small plane. It was his pride and joy. He'd flown hundreds of hours in light aircraft so we weren't worried.
'He was not a man who would panic.
'He was trained to reduce the risk to other people and that is what he would have done, trying his hardest to miss the children that were playing in the park where he landed.
'It gives us a small amount of comfort to know he died doing what he loved and protecting others.
'He was a hero.''
Mr Rickwood, also an experienced pilot who started flying in the mid-70s and who became an instructor in 1978, said the collision happened as he and Mr Kerr were returning to Shoreham Airport following a lesson.
He told the hearing: 't should have been very easy. Neither of us saw anything that caused concern. And just as we were going to turn there was a bang.
'The aeroplane was sent up on its left wing and we didn't know what had happened.''
Describing how he saw Mr Weal's plane momentarily, he added: 'There looked like a shadow for a fraction of a second, immediately followed by a horrendous bang that has given me nightmares for many months.
'There were some expletives, as I'm sure you will appreciate, and we thought what was going on.
'It's like running across a field for 30 years without anything happening and then one day someone puts a sheet of glass across it. It was a complete and utter shock.''
Mr Rickwood, from Farnham, Surrey, said his 'heart nearly stopped'' when he realised the scale of the damage to their plane, a Diamond Star DA40 diesel-powered, single-piston, four-seat aircraft.
'We looked at each other and said, 'What the heck was that?'. We noticed the propeller was gone.
'My heart nearly stopped because we had a hole. We knew that this was going to affect the aeroplane. Fortunately, on this occasion I was flying with one of the best students who had also done more time on that particular aeroplane than I did.''
An immediate Mayday call could not be transmitted by Mr Rickwood or Mr Kerr because one was already being made by Mr Weal.
Eventually, they told air traffic control that they were going to land their stricken aircraft on a grass runway before they exited the plane.
The collision had left him enduring 'weeks and weeks of nightmares'' and considering whether to fly again, Mr Rickwood said.
He praised the actions of Mr Kerr in helping land their aircraft safely, saying: 'He did everything by the book and he did everything very well.''
In a statement read at the hearing, Mrs Weal said her late husband sold his own plane and had a part-share in one. He had to undergo annual health checks and was described as 'fit and healthy''.
Mrs Weal, who married him in Hove, East Sussex, in 1970, described him as a loving and supportive father and grandfather whose death had affected everyone who knew him.
A post-mortem examination confirmed Mr Weal died from head and chest injuries.