Passenger dies and pilot critically injured in Norfolk vintage plane crash

A man in his 80s died and a pilot was critically injured after a vintage American fighter plane crashed near an airfield in Norfolk.

The aircraft came down in a field by Hardwick airfield near the town of Bungay, about 10 miles south of Norwich, at about 3.30pm on Sunday.

It burst into flames and emergency services were unable to save the passenger, who died at the scene.

The plane, a US-made P51 D Model Mustang nicknamed Janie, was owned and operated by the pilot, Maurice Hammond, who is in his 50s and from Suffolk.

He is an expert on vintage planes who has restored them for Plane Resurrection, a series shown on Netflix and the Discovery channel.

Married with two grown-up daughters, he was airlifted to hospital after the crash, and was left in a critical but stable condition.

A close friend said the family are "devastated" at the accident and the "appalling sadness" of the death of Mr Hammond's passenger, who was not a relative.

The friend, who asked not to be named, said Mr Hammond restores aircraft as part of his business and is regarded as one of the finest pilots in the country of the type of plane that crashed.

He told the Press Association: "He is a phenomenal engineer, I would say he is probably in the top three or four pilots of this marque of aircraft in the UK, and he is heavily involved in the restoration of other similar aircraft - that is what he does for a living.

"He spends thousands of hours on his aircraft and flying with them. Part of his business is restoring sections of engines and other components of these type of aircraft.

"You couldn't have somebody more technically qualified - the understanding of every single nut and bolt of the aircraft - you couldn't fly with somebody technically more competent. He is regarded as a leader in his field."

The friend added: "He is very, very well known locally and this year they were celebrating raising a total of £100,000 for cancer charities.

"We just want to see Maurice returned to health."

The plane came down in a field just a few hundred yards from the Hardwick airstrip, thought to be owned by a local farmer.

Local resident Charles Christian was out walking when he saw it come in to land and said it appeared to descend normally, with its landing gear down, as it flew over him.

He said: "It flew on towards the runway, which is about a quarter of a mile away, and disappeared behind the trees to land."

Mr Christian said he heard a spluttering noise, which he said was normal when he had previously seen the plane come in to land, then the engine stopped very quietly before a bang, which he thought was a small explosion.

But Mr Hammond's family friend said the sound was not that of the engine cutting out but of it reducing to an idling setting before it landed, and that the plane was operating normally.

Mr Christian said: "I didn't think there was anything untoward because they make those noises and I just assumed it was backfiring. There was no sign of anything happening, there wasn't a column of smoke or anything.

"But when it came into land it was working totally fine. I could see the propellers spinning round nicely because it's done in D-Day-type colours and the propeller has yellow tips on it, so you could see it and the sun was catching on it.

"I actually saw it in the distance circling to come in and there was certainly no sign of anything untoward on there."

He added: "They do an awful lot of local air shows, vintage displays, and during the height of the summer season other people with vintage planes fly up here and there will sometimes be three or four of them."

Police said Denton Road, near the airfield, remains closed while investigations are carried out.