Pilot died after plane plunged to ground

17 November 2010, 16:38 | Updated: 17 November 2010, 16:47

A female stunt pilot was killed when her light aircraft plummeted 2,300ft to the ground during a competition routine, an inquest heard today.

American Vicki Cruse, 41, died on impact from extensive multiple injuries when her single-seater plane nosedived and crashed during the 25th World Aerobatic Championships in Northamptonshire.

Miss Cruse, a former US aerobatic champion, had been among 62 pilots from around the world competing in the event at Silverstone in August 2009.

Buckinghamshire coroner Richard Hulett told a jury sitting at High Wycombe Magistrates' Court that Miss Cruse, from Santa Paula, California, had been a member of the 10-strong US team attending the event, which began on August 21.

He said: ``What I believe takes place is single solo pilots compete with each other performing a series of manoeuvres and exercises by way of a competition in front of judges.''

The 11 jurors were shown footage of Miss Cruse's scheduled 10-minute flight, which took place at 11.48am on day two of the contest - Saturday, August 22.

Images showed the Zivko Edge 540 start to perform the required series of nine manoeuvres, including quick turns, spins and dives.

The aircraft is seen failing to recover from a downward snap roll - the fifth manoeuvre in the sequence - and plunge to the ground.

Wing Commander Graeme Maidment, head of the aviation pathology department at the RAF's Centre of Aviation Medicine, told the inquest that Miss Cruse suffered severe multiple injuries consistent with someone in an aircraft hitting the ground at speed.

He noted two lacerations to her left hand which he said suggested that she was grasping something on impact.

He said: ``I do not believe that she was unconscious at the time the aircraft hit the ground and was grasping something with the hand.''

Describing the effects of g-force on pilots which can lead to 'grey outs', black outs and loss of consciousness, he said it was possible she could have lost consciousness and regained it on impact, but it was ``unlikely'' given the 10.7 second time frame.

A series of statements from Miss Cruse's US team-mates were read at the inquest by coroner's officer Malcolm Stevens.

Team engineer Leonard Rulason said she had borrowed the plane from a British pilot, was the only one using that model and it had been the first time she used it.

He recalled she experienced some problems starting the plane on August 19 and ignition checks were carried out before it was transferred to the Silverstone hangar.

Of the accident, he said he saw the aircraft continue to rotate before crashing, but the engine noise had been normal.

He said: ``I had known Vicki for 15 years. She was president of the club, a hugely competent flyer and had won numerous international competitions. She was an extremely experienced pilot.''

Fellow US pilot Deborah Rhin-Harvey remembered the weather conditions had been good, adding: ``Before the first flight she seemed nervous but was relaxed and prepared.''

Robert Harris, volunteer chief marshall at the event, recalled Miss Cruse saying the borrowed plane was not the same as her own and was not set the same.

Giving evidence, Paul Taft, who worked as a car racing instructor at Silverstone, said he witnessed the crash through his binoculars and the impact left dust rather than flames.

Tracey's family released the following statement:

"Tracy was a fun loving, caring daughter, who had everything to live for. On the day of the collision, Tracy was on her way to move into her new flat with her partner and start a job with Thames Valley Police in the control room.

"No words can describe how much Tracy will be missed by all her family and friends. Tracy was a much loved daughter, sister and friend to all that knew her. She was always full of such vibrant energy and potential and excelled at anything she turned her hand to.

"We were devastated by the tragic loss of Tracy and we thank everyone for the huge support that they have offered us during this difficult time.

"It was a terrible accident with terrible consequences and there is no getting away from using a mobile phone whilst driving can kill. If anything good can come out of the death of our daughter, we would urge people to switch off their phone before getting into a car. Nothing is so important that you cannot wait until you reach your destination or pull over and stop.

"The last few months have been the hardest thing that anyone could ever expect to deal with in a lifetime. Today is now the start of the rest of our lives and we would appreciate it if the press and media would allow us to begin to grieve in peace."