Coombe Abbey air crash inquest verdict: errors led to five deaths

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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ERRORS made by air traffic control and a flight operator led to mid-air air accident which killed five people near Coventry Airport four years ago, an inquest jury has found.

The crash - in which Brian Normington, 70, of Blackdown near Leamington and James Beagley, 34, of Broad Street, Warwick, were among those who died - took place on the approach to the airport above Coombe Abbey on the morning of Sunday August 17 2008.

Mr Normington’s single-seater Rand KR-2 ‘kit plane’ was in collision with a larger Cessna 402C piloted by Sophie Hastings, 28, of Swadlingcote, Derbyshire, and also including John ‘Harvey’ Harcourt Antrobus, 28, of Fillongley, Sybille Karen Gautrey, 33, of Towcester, Northamptonshire and Mr Beagley among its crew.

At the inquest into their deaths at Warwickshire Justice Centre today (Friday) the jury returned a narrative verdict which stated that the Cessna’s operating company Reconnaissance Ventures Limited (RVL) did not discuss the nature of the flight the crew were carrying out, which was calibration training.

This, the Jury found, did not give the airport’s air traffic controllers the opportunity to identify and plan for any associated risks.

The jury also found that the information given to air traffic control by the Cessna immediately before take off was sufficiently comprehensive to enable air traffic controllers to understand the nature of the flight but was not fully taken into account by the tower control when devising the plane’s landing sequence, which was “unlikely” to succeed.

Further, the tower controller did not monitor or adjust his landing sequence in order to minimise the risk of the two planes colliding.

No information was provided to Mr Normington about the presence, location and speed of the Cessna, which compromised his ability to see and avoid the larger plane, the jury said.

And the tower controller gave the Cessna inaccurate information about the presence and position of the Rand, which had an “adverse effect” on the crew of the Cessna’s ability to see and avoid the smaller plane.

The jury concluded that the respective pilots either did not see the other aircraft or did not see them in time to take effective avoiding action.

During the inquest the jury heard evidence from senior Air Accidents Investigation Branch inspector Geraint Herbert, eye witnesses, medical experts, air traffic controllers, Christopher Peart of the Civil Aviation Authority’s air traffic standards division and RVL group managing director Colin Dennis

Coroner Sean McGovern, who took the unusual steps of visiting the scene after the accident, will now take a few days to consider a report on the case.

He said it was a case which had stuck in his mind over the past four years.

Expressing his condolences to the victim’s families, Mr McGovern said: “Four years ago bad news came to each of the families which was unexpected and quite certainly changed their lives.

“Hopefully you will join me to offer our condolences to all of the families and all of those affected.”

After the inquest the victim’s families called for action to ensure similar incidents don’t happen again.

In a statement Mr Normington’s family said: “Dad was a gentle man, with a great sense of humour, he was a fantastic husband with a vast enthusiasm for life who adored his family and doted on his grandchildren.

“He was an exemplary pilot who lost his life while doing a hobby he loved and he has left an enormous gap in all our lives.

“As a family we are relieved that after four years we have finally had the inquest. It has been a traumatic time for us all.

“We hope lessons can be learned in the future of the importance of communication and understanding when new or unusual flying activities are undertaken in uncontrolled airspace.”

The ownership of Coventry Airport has changed hands since the accident with air traffic control provided by a private firm.