How did Shoreham crash pilot 'run out of sky'? Former British Airways skipper fights for life as experts say he may have blacked out during attempted loop
- Andy Hill who served in RAF was pulled from wreckage after his jet ploughed into busy dual carriageway
- He remains in critical condition at Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton with wife Ellen at his bedside
- Expert says British Airways Airbus captain, 51, might have avoided disaster if he had had more altitude
- His Hawker Hunter's two-seater cockpit appeared to have separated from the fuselage as it slid along A27
The highly-experienced pilot involved in the Shoreham airshow disaster was last night fighting for his life as experts speculated on the cause of the crash.
Andy Hill, who served in the RAF, was pulled from the wreckage after his jet ploughed into a busy dual carriageway.
He remains in a critical condition at the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton, his wife Ellen at his bedside.
One expert said the 51-year-old British Airways Airbus captain had ‘run out of sky’ and might have avoided disaster if he had had more altitude.
His Hawker Hunter hit the ground at speed following a loop manoeuvre.
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Graphically explained: An Air Accidents Investigation Branch inquiry will attempt to determine the cause of Saturday's disaster on the A27
Experienced pilot: Andy Hill, who served in the RAF, was pulled from the wreckage after his jet ploughed into a busy dual carriageway
The plane’s two-seater cockpit appeared to have separated from the fuselage as it slid along the A27.
Photographs suggest it remained ahead of the fireball from exploding aviation fuel. Onlookers dragged Mr Hill from the open cockpit.
An Air Accidents Investigation Branch inquiry will attempt to determine the cause of the disaster.
It will rely on eyewitnesses, video footage and forensic evidence, as well as the pilot’s testimony if he recovers, because the Hunter does not have a black box recorder.
Aviation experts said Mr Hill may have blacked out at the controls.
Other theories ranged last night from an engine flame-out to a bird strike and even leaking aviation fuel.
David Learmount, a former pilot and RAF flying instructor, said he did not believe a malfunction was to blame.
He described the loop manoeuvre as responsible for the ‘death of many an aviator’.
Up in the air: The vintage Hawker Hunter jet reaches the top of its loop-the-loop manoeuvre at the airshow in West Sussex on Saturday
Going down: The Hawker Hunter begins the descent that would end in tragedy (left), as the pilot tries to pull out of the dive (right)
‘Whatever he was intending to do, he manifestly did not end the manoeuvre at the same height as he entered it, which would have been his intention,’ he said.
‘Whether that happened because he lost consciousness, or because something distracted him momentarily, we may never know.
‘If the engine had failed, the result would not have been what we witnessed.
'There was no exterior sign of damage. It will not be because this Hunter was too old.’
But former RAF pilot Paul Wilson, a member of the British Association of Aviation Consultants, said it was possible Mr Hill’s engine had failed.
He said: ‘You would normally aim to gain height in a completed loop.
'There seemed to be plenty of height at the top so it’s possible the engine flamed out, leaving him stuck with a dead engine.
‘At that point, he was trying to make the best of a bad job. It certainly looks like he has lost thrust.
‘His nose is pointing up as he comes down – it looks as if he’s trying to get as much lift as possible out of his wing without any thrust.
Seconds from impact: The jet (centre) narrowly misses a line of queuing traffic (bottom right) on the Shoreham bypass in West Sussex
Just feet above cars: Theories on how the crash happened ranged from an engine flame-out to a bird strike and even leaking aviation fuel
Astonishing fireball: The jet crashes into several vehicles and explodes in flames, but the cockpit and pilot remain clear of the fireball
‘If he’d been higher there would’ve been a chance he might have been able to get the plane back to the airfield but he’s run out of sky, as it were, with tragic consequences.’
Neil McCarthy, a fellow aviator and friend, said Mr Hill was an excellent pilot. ‘We have got to hope he pulls through,’ he said, adding: ‘As display pilots we do know the risks’.
Mr Hill had more than 12,000 hours’ flying experience and was considered ‘the best of the best’ by colleagues.
Before winning acclaim as a stunt pilot, he spent three years flying RAF Harrier jump jets, having gained his wings in 1987.
He also worked at the RAF training centre at Linton-on-Ouse in North Yorkshire.
Mr Hill then became a civilian pilot, flying Airbus A340 and Boeing 757 and 767 jets for BA.
He is a flying instructor and works as a stunt pilot as part of flying duo the RV8tors.
He and colleague Alister Kay perform close formation aerobatic displays in RV-8s – small two-seater, home-built planes.
Mr Hill’s 52-year-old wife is also a British Airways captain. At their home in Sandon, Hertfordshire, last night, a relative was too distraught to speak.
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