Shoreham Airshow crash death toll may rise above seven as pilot fights for life

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The bodies of more victims may be found as investigators and emergency services continue to search the scene of the Shoreham Airshow plane crash, police said.

Seven people died when an historic Hawker Hunter jet plummeted on to the A27 at Shoreham in West Sussex after it failed to pull out of a loop manoeuvre.

The pilot was flown to the Royal Sussex Hospital where he is in a critical condition and fighting for his life, Superintendent Jane Derrick, from Sussex Police, said.

A further 14 people were injured, four of whom were taken to hospital, after the jet crashed at around 1.20pm on Saturday, shortly after it began its display in front of thousands of show visitors.

Horrified onlookers described seeing the plane flying low to the ground followed by a "huge ball of fire and black smoke".

Footage of the crash posted online showed the jet carrying out a loop manoeuvre high in the air but smashing into the road in a huge fireball after it failed to pull up in time.

She said: "Sadly we believe that seven people have lost their lives today when the jet crashed.

"As far as we are aware all those who sadly lost their lives were on the road, and it was nobody within the air show perimeter on the actual airport.

"At this time we are continuing to search ... the area to ensure that we have identified all the casualties.

"It is possible that tonight and tomorrow we are going to find more bodies at the scene."

Ms Derrick would not comment on earlier speculation that the dead included two cyclists, but said there were "a number of people and bikes at the scene and the officers are working through that at the moment".

She was also unable to say whether the pilot was able to eject.

One of those injured was released from hospital earlier.

Police appealed for members of the public to stay away from the crash site while officers continue to search the area.

Officers have received around 40 calls from people worried about loved ones following the horrific incident and have set up a dedicated phone line for concerned relatives on 01273 470101.

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch is now leading the investigation into the cause of the crash.

Photographs taken by witnesses showed the burning aircraft ploughing across the busy road just yards from cars and a group of people, its cockpit canopy open and wing ablaze, engulfing traffic lights, roadwork cones and signs in a huge ball of fire.

Burning debris was also visible high in the air.

Laura Raymond, a presenter for Splash FM, said the accident happened less than a quarter of a mile from where crowds and families were watching the event.

She said a "couple of planes" were taking part in a jet display when one appeared to fly too close to the ground before onlookers saw a "huge ball of fire and black smoke".

She told Sky News: "We were watching the displays ... and the fast jets were going on. 

"Within seconds we were thinking, 'gosh, that plane is going rather low'. There was a ball of fire, we didn't even hear an impact, and then plumes of black smoke."

Prime Minister David Cameron sent his "heartfelt condolences" to the families of those who died in the crash.

A Downing Street spokesman said: "The Prime Minister sends his heartfelt condolences to the families of the people who were so tragically killed after a jet crashed into several vehicles in West Sussex.

"The Prime Minister's thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of the victims."

Today's air show has been cancelled as a mark of respect, organisers said.

Royal Air Forces Association secretary general Nick Bunting said last night it was "too early to speculate" about the future of the event.

He said: "On behalf of the Royal Air Forces Association and the Shoreham Airshow organisers our thoughts are with all of those affected by today's tragic accident, their families and friends.

"We are working closely with all of the organisers involved and the agencies therein."

An Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) spokesman said: "AAIB will be conducting a civil air accident investigation and a team is on site. We are working closely with Sussex police and a report will be produced in due course."

The crash damaged the A27 and Highways England said it would remain closed until at least 6am on Monday.

Tim Loughton, MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, said: "Given the many thousands of people attending the air show we thank God that the aircraft did not hit a larger crowd. Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected."

It is the second tragic incident at the Shoreham Airshow in recent years.

In September 2007 James Bond stuntman Brian Brown, 49, died when he crashed a Second World War Hurricane after carrying out an unplanned barrel roll at a re-enactment of the Battle of Britain.

Anyone who has video footage or photos of the incident is asked to email shoreham.airshow2015@sussex.pnn.police.uk to advise police what footage they have. Officers will then ask for images to be sent if they wish to see them.