Crash Pilot 'Died Avoiding Homes'

A pilot died after he managed to steer his light aircraft into a recreation ground avoiding nearby houses after being in a mid-air collision with another plane, according to police.

The incident was reported close to Shoreham Airport, near Brighton, West Sussex, at around 4.28pm yesterday, Sussex Police said.

A police spokesman said the pilot, a 63-year-old man from the local area, appeared to have taken action to avoid houses before the aircraft crashed on to the Adur recreation ground.

The spokesman said that there were people in the area at the time but there were no casualties on the ground.

He added that there was wreckage strewn over a wide area which had now been cordoned off by police.

The A259 Brighton Road was also closed while officers began their investigation into the crash.

The second aircraft, a Diamond DA40, landed safely and the two crew were shaken but otherwise uninjured, the spokesman added.

Superintendent Neil Honnor said: ``This is a very tragic incident.

``It would appear that the dead pilot tried to avoid local houses and managed to crash into the open recreation ground. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this time.''

Witness Rob Piatt said it was a ``miracle'' that no one on the ground was injured.

Mr Piatt, 41, from Shoreham, was sitting in a pub garden when he heard a bang overhead before turning to see two aircraft parting in mid-air.

He said: ``I saw the tailfin of one of the aircraft floating down. The poor pilot was weaving all over the place.

``Then the aircraft went out of sight and we were just waiting to hear the explosion.

``There was no way he could have got out of it. He was going down at such a steep angle and pretty quickly. He did very well to get it to the recreation ground and not crash in the airfield itself.

``It was very near a kids' playground and it is an area that's popular with dog walkers. On a gorgeous day like today there would have been loads of people out on the recreation ground.

``It's a miracle no one was hurt on the ground.''

A team from the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) has been sent to the scene, a spokesman said.

One of the planes involved in the collision belonged to Flying Time Aviation, which provides training for pilots and is based at Shoreham Airport.

In a statement, the company said: ``We can confirm there has been an incident concerning one of our aircraft.

``We are uncertain of the details at the present time and the incident is currently under investigation by the AAIB and Sussex Police.

``We have been training pilots since April 2006. We have never before had a serious incident during the history of our flight training organisation and safety is, and always has been, our main priority.

``Both of the pilots operating our aircraft were uninjured during the incident.''