Monday 27 January 2020

Witnesses tell of fatal plane crash

The scene outside Kilkeel, Co Down, where three men were killed in a light aircraft crash
The scene outside Kilkeel, Co Down, where three men were killed in a light aircraft crash

A light aircraft spluttered and stalled seconds before it nosedived to the ground, killing three people in the North, an inquest has heard.

The plane slowed so much while approaching an airstrip in limited visibility that it fell from the air and burst into flames in a field in Kilkeel, Co Down, an expert investigator said.

Pilot Hugh McKnight, 54, a former policeman, and passengers Stephen Annett and Andrew Burden, both 24, died instantly in June last year on their way back from the Isle of Man TT motorcycle races. Their charred bodies were unrecognisable.

Geraint Herbert, a senior inspector at the Air Accident Investigation Branch of the Department for Transport, said: "The reduction in power would have led to reduction in airflow over the wings. This combined with a reduced air speed caused the aircraft to stall."

The victims had to be identified by their dental records because their bodies were unrecognisably burned by the fireball, pathology reports said. They suffered multiple injuries and died instantly before the blaze started.

Mr McKnight had switched to the Kilkeel airfield en route from the Isle of Man because of poor conditions at another airstrip. However, by the time he reached Kilkeel low hanging cloud and drizzle had rolled in off the Irish Sea.

Mr Herbert told the Newry inquest that the stall was caused by the air over the wings becoming "rough" as the plane slowed and turned to approach the runway.

That meant there was not enough lift generated to keep the craft in the air and it plummeted to the ground.

The inspector added that as he tried to land at the airfield the pilot was flying in higher than normal and reduced power.

"It is possible that the pilot did this to lower the aircraft's approach path," he added.

The engine was still running and the inspector said Mr McKnight would have given it full power to try to take it into the air again.

PA Media

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