Shoreham crash pilot had cavalier attitude to safety, court told

A pilot whose plane crashed in a failed stunt killing 11 men had a “cavalier” attitude to safety, played “fast and loose” with rules and had a history of taking “risks”, a court heard.

Andrew Hill had been flying “too low and too slow” when the Hawker Hunter jet crashed and exploded into a fireball on the A27 while he was performing a loop at the Shoreham Airshow in August 2015, jurors were told on Wednesday.

The 54-year-old, of Sandon, Buntingford, Hertfordshire, denies 11 charges of manslaughter by gross negligence.

Shoreham Airshow crash
Shoreham Airshow crash

Prosecutor Tom Kark QC told the Old Bailey although normally considered a “careful and competent” pilot, a string of incidents in the year before the crash suggested he sometimes took “risks”, “playing fast and loose” with the rules and safety.

After one of the incidents the court heard he sent a text message to a friend which said “1 f*** up by me – suitably debriefed!”

The Civil Aviation Authority even considered taking away his permit to take part in displays.

Prosecution experts say the crash “was the result of Mr Hill making an extremely poor and reckless decision at the top of the loop”, Mr Kark said.

The incidents showed Hill was “prepared to take a risk” with safety and exemplified a “more cavalier attitude to safety than was inappropriate”.

He told the court of three incidents in 2014, a year before the crash, when there were concerns over his flying.

Shoreham Airshow crash
Shoreham Airshow crash

During a practice display for the Duxford airshow in Cambridgeshire, Hill flew over the crowd line and twice over the M11 much lower than permitted – at 200ft and 250ft rather than the 500ft.

He also flew over the Duxford Museum, which was regarded as a “serious infringement”, Mr Kark said.

Even though it was a practice run, Mr Kark said it showed Hill “played fast and loose with the rules which are designed to keep people safe”.

At the 2014 Shoreham Airshow, he breached his display permit by flying over nearby Lancing College and the surrounding “congested area”, the court heard.

During this flight, he carried out the same stunt he was performing during the crash.

At the Southport Airshow near Blackpool, he “performed a dangerous manoeuvre and his display was then halted” by a “stop, stop, stop” call, Mr Kark said.

A text found on his phone to friend Dan Arlett, which said: “1 f*** up by me – suitably debriefed!” was “relevant to the incident”, Mr Kark said.

A stop call was a “rare event” – only five were issued for pilot error between 2013 and 2015, he said, adding: “The manoeuvre took him far too close to the crowd and was dangerous.”

Experienced pilots were among spectators who witnessed the 2015 crash, and had described the aircraft as flying too low and too slow, Mr Kark said.

Regular spectator David Miles “started running as fast as he could away from the crash” and “felt an enormous heat and fell to the floor”, he told the court.

Jurors and a public gallery packed with relatives of the victims saw three separate video clips showing the display before the 1950s fighter jet disappeared behind trees and a fireball erupted into the air.

During one of the clips recorded at the West Sussex event, a commentator can be heard exclaiming “ooh” as the aircraft can be seen flying low over the road.

Hill, dressed in a black suit, blue and white striped shirt and blue tie with glasses, sat watching the footage up until the moments before the crash before looking down at the ground and appearing to take notes.

The court heard Hill was thrown clean from the cockpit, his helmet had come off, he was badly injured and in “danger of dying”.

He was placed in an induced coma before being discharged from hospital three weeks later, and appears to have made a full physical recovery, Mr Kark told the court.

Hill told emergency services he had been feeling ill before the crash, and when questioned by police said he had no memory of the incident.

It is understood his defence is that his flying was affected by the G-force and he may have been affected by a “cognitive impairment”, Mr Kark said.

He added the G-force experienced was “nothing unusual” for the ex-military pilot, and the aircraft was fitted with a system to counteract it.

Prosecution experts could find “no proper foundation” for the illness and if he had been feeling unwell, to continue such a display was “negligent in the extreme”, Mr Kark said.

The trial, before Mr Justice Andrew Edis QC, continues on Thursday and could last eight weeks.