Inquest latest
Fatal air crash could have been prevented

By Matthew Bates Friday 12 October 2012 Updated: 12/10 10:12

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The tail wing of the Cessna 402 being loaded onto a recovery vehicle by the RAF. 34.08.016.jg4

THE MID-AIR crash which killed five people could have been prevented, an air traffic controller has claimed.

Gary Smith made the split-second decisions moments before the crash back in 2008, which saw five people killed when two aircraft collided in mid-air.

He said priorities might have changed had he been made aware of the nature of one of the plane's flight.

Mr Smith was giving evidence yesterday (Wednesday) on the third day of a jury inquest at Leamington Justice Centre into the deaths in 2008.

Killed in the crash, over Coombe Abbey on Sunday, August 17, were pilots Sophie Hastings and Sybille Gautrey, and passengers John Antrobus and James Beagley on board a Cessna 402, and Brian Normington, 70, from Blackdown near Leamington, who had piloted a Rand KR-2.

The Cessna crew, all employees of Baginton-based Reconnaissance Ventures Ltd (RVL), had been carrying out specific training which saw their plane travel 40 knots faster than usual.

However, when the crew had informed air traffic control of their intention the night before, the information was incorrectly categorised by a staff member.

Mr Smith said the airport was going through a difficult time with staffing and a previous manager had left just prior to the crash.

He claimed he had been informed the Cessna would travel at high speed, but not specifically 160 knots, during a staff handover.

Mr Smith, who now works at a different airport, described the safety assessment carried out as 'erroneous' and said he would normally expect six weeks notice.

He said he only had an 'inkling' of the plane's extra speed during an earlier approach.

"I believe the accident would have been resolved if safety had been better managed," he said.

"There could have been more restrictions on the circuit and the aircraft could be dealt with in a different priority."

It also emerged Mr Normington's plane was not fixed with a transponder device which could have helped avoid tragedy.

On Monday, the jury heard from Geraint Herbert, senior inspector of the Air Accidents Investigation Branch, who said probable reasons for the crash included the pilots not seeing each other or having enough time to avoid a collision when they did.

He showed how Mr Normington's plane, which he said was 'notoriously difficult to see', could have been in a blindspot from the cockpit of the Cessna 402.

The inquest is to hear from further witnesses including experts in flight safety and a boss from RVL, as well as Mr Herbert.

The inquest is expected continue into next week. See for updates.

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