‘Greedy and reckless’ pilot jailed over crash when birdwatchers escaped death

A pilot who crashed a plane with three birdwatchers on board has been jailed for three and a half years.

Robert Murgatroyd, 52, had charged three men £500 each to take them to see a rare bird off the island of Barra in his Piper PA28 aircraft on September 9 2017.

But the plane crashed on farmland shortly after take off, injuring two of the passengers.

On Friday, he was sentenced to three years and six months at Manchester Crown Court and had his pilot’s licence revoked by the UK Civil Aviation Authority, a spokesman for Greater Manchester Police said.

An investigation after the crash revealed the aircraft was 420lbs over its maximum weight and Murgatroyd’s insurance was void as he held a private pilot’s licence and was not allowed to run commercial flights.

Murgatroyd, of Windy Harbour Road, Poulton-le-Fylde, was found guilty following a three-week trial of offences including recklessly endangering the safety of an aircraft, flying an aircraft without an air operator certificate, flying without an appropriate licence and flying without the aircraft flight manual.

Sergeant Lee Westhead, senior investigation officer from GMP’s serious collision investigation unit, said: “Today’s sentence reflects the utter stupidity of Murgatroyd’s greedy and reckless actions.

“Murgatroyd endangered the lives of dozens of people that day, including those of motorists passing beneath his overloaded plane on the M62.

“That this crash only resulted in two relatively minor injuries is extremely fortunate.

“Make no mistake, this could quite easily have been a truly terrible disaster, all caused because one man saw an opportunity to make a quick buck.

“His passengers weren’t to know their pilot was flouting the law and that he had failed to take the appropriate safety measures.”