Coombe Abbey air crash inquest: families pay tribute to five victims

Wreckage from the mid-air collision, which took place near Coventry Airport in August 2008. Picture by Neil Plumb.
Wreckage from the mid-air collision, which took place near Coventry Airport in August 2008. Picture by Neil Plumb.
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STATEMENTS by the bereaved family members of five people who were killed in a mid-air crash near Coventry airport have been heard on the first day on the inquest into their deaths.

The incident, in which the single-seater Rand KR-2 of Blackdown man Brian Normington was in collision above Coombe Abbey with a Cessna 402C in which James Beagley, 34, of Broad Street, Warwick, was part of the four-strong crew, took place on Sunday August 17 2008.

At the inquest at Warwickshire Justice Centre in Leamington today (Monday) a statement given by Mr Normington’s wife June after the crash was read.

Mrs Normington described her 70-year-old husband, whom she had been married to for 48 years, as a man who had always had a fascination with flying from a young age and who was “very practically minded”.

She added: “He was a very active person who was always on the go and always had to be doing something.

“Everything he did had to be perfect.”

Mr Normington joined the RAF in 1959 and learned to fly gliders during his two years of service.

He gained his full pilot’s licence in 1988 and took ten years to build the Rand.

He was a member of the Air Armstrong Whitworth Group flying club, who had flown for more than 600 hours in aircraft like the ‘kit plane’ he owned.

Only flying between May and November, he would prefer to head towards Wales and the Cotswolds on short leisure trips.

Alan Beagley the father of James, or Jamie as he was better known, has said his son had “absolutely adored” flying and had gained his full licence at just 21.

Mr Beagley said: “His death has been a huge loss, not only to myself and the family, but to many people who knew him.”

An aeronautical engineering graduate who studied at Kingston University in Surrey, Jamie worked as a member of the ground crew at West London Aero Club before joining the Reconnaissance Ventures Limited (RVL) at Coventry Airport in 2007.

On the day of the accident he and his fellow crew members, including pilot Sophie Hastings, 28, from Woodville in Derbyshire, Sybille Gautrey, 33, of Towcester in Northamptonshire and John ‘Harvey’ Antrobus, 28, of Fillongley were undertaking instrument landing system calibration training for RVL.

Jamie had been offered a job as a first officer for Atlantic Airways and was due to start the following month.

The inquest also heard from Geraint Herbert, a senior inspector for the Air Accidents Investigation Branch, who described the findings of a report into the accident which was published in December 2010.

The Rand hit the Cessna side on at about 700ft, causing the latter’s right engine to explode as it travelled at a speed of 106 knots or about 120mph.

Investigators have identified several factors which contributed to the collision, which happened in Class G, or ‘uncontrolled airspace’ in which pilots are expected to take all possible measures to avoid other aircraft while air traffic controllers are expected to provide sufficient information to assist this.

The report says that the likelihood or the crew of the Cessna being able to spot the Rand in time to carry out effective avoiding action was reduced by the small size of the kit plane, its position relative to the larger aircraft and the high rate of closure between the two.

It also says that insufficient and inaccurate information was provided to both pilots to assist them to avoid the collision, that the aerodrome controller’s sequencing plan, based on an incomplete understanding of the nature of the Cessna’s flight was unlikely to have been successful and there were no effective measures in place to give the larger aircraft priority over traffic in the visual circuit.

The inquest, for which a jury will return a verdict, is expected to be concluded by Friday or next Monday and will include statements from eye witnesses, air traffic controllers, safety and medical experts and the group managing director for RVL.