Death toll in English air show crash disaster 'could reach 20'
The death toll after a vintage fighter jet ploughed into a busy road in southern England while performing an acrobatics display could approach 20, police said yesterday.
As the toll rose, Britain announced new safety restrictions on airshows.
The Hawker Hunter plane, of a type developed by Britain in the 1950s, struck several cars on Saturday on the major road next to Shoreham airport near Brighton, where the show was taking place.
The crash was the third - and by far the most deadly - at the event since 2007.
Police originally said they feared 11 people had died. A senior officer said that figure was likely to rise as police gained access to more areas of the accident scene.
"It's too early to tell but I'd be surprised if (the death toll) doesn't go above 11," Sussex Police Assistant Chief Constable Steve Barry was quoted as telling the BBC. "If it would be below 20 then that would be probably the best estimate that I could give you at this stage."
In 2007, a pilot was killed at Shoreham after his World War Two Hurricane aircraft crashed just north of the same road, and three years later a stunt glider pilot survived a crash there.
The Royal Air Forces Association, which helps organise the show, said yesterday that the team running the event had many years' experience nationally and needed to meet tough safety standards set by Britain's air transport regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
Amateur video footage of Saturday's crash showed two big explosions and black plumes of smoke after the jet hit the ground. Police said the large number of attendees as well as motorists and cyclists on the road made it difficult to confirm the identities of the victims.
Two footballers from nearby amateur team Worthing United were among those killed, the club said.
The road, a major artery for traffic along the south coast, remained closed yesterday as wreckage of the aircraft was being removed.
The CAA said it had begun a review of airshows and had placed new restrictions on events as a result of Saturday's crash.
Flying displays over land by vintage aircraft will be significantly restricted and limited to flypasts, with acrobatics banned. No more flights are to be allowed for now by Hawker Hunter aircraft of the type involved in the crash.
Several crashes have occurred during other air displays in Britain in recent years, the latest three weeks ago when a stunt plane crashed at a car festival in Cheshire, northwest England, killing the pilot.
As the jet was removed for forensic examination, it emerged that more than 200 people have reported concerns about missing friends and relatives since the disaster.
After the recovery of wreckage and victims got under way, police revealed that the crash site now extends slightly further than the 400 yards first identified.
The jet will be sent to Farnborough in Hampshire where Air Accidents Investigation (AAIB) investigators will examine the wreckage.
Vehicles and other debris will then be removed from the scene before a second phase of checking to ensure all victims have been accounted for.
Mr Barry said: "I appreciate that things will never be the same again in Shoreham, but would like to assure everyone affected by the incident that all of us working on the operation are determined that we will provide answers to the families and friends of those who have lost loved ones and work as quickly as we can to complete our investigations and reopen the road."
Police confirmed that the driver of a limousine who is thought to have been killed on his way to pick up a bride was 76-year-old Maurice Abrahams, from Brighton.
His family said in a statement: "Maurice is a well-respected and loved father and husband. He enjoyed his work chauffeuring his beloved Daimler car and he enjoyed gardening.
"He was proud to have served in the Grenadier Guards and the Parachute Regiment. He served in Cyprus and Bahrain with the UN. In his thirties he served as a police officer with Hampshire Police."
His neighbour Kathy Peters said: "He was a real pillar of the community and would do a lot for the elderly around here. He would mow their lawns and take their shopping in.
"Maurice was a general Good Samaritan - he will be really missed."