A pilot accused of killing 11 men at the Shoreham Airshow chose to perform the “highest risk” stunt possible before a fatal crash, a jury has heard.
Andy Hill’s Hunter Hawker jet hit the ground and exploded after he attempted a manoeuvre known as the bent loop.
He had committed the “cardinal sin” of trying to complete the trick while apparently lacking the height to do so, the Old Bailey heard.
Mr Hill, 54, denies 11 counts of manslaughter by gross negligence.
The court has heard the vintage jet “disintegrated” and erupted into a “massive fireball” when it crashed into the A27 in August 2015.
Jurors were shown footage of the crash, taken by spectators on the road who had been standing behind some of the victims.
Prosecutor Tom Kark QC warned the panel they may find the footage “distressing”.
“You are in effect seeing these gentleman in the last few seconds of their lives,” he said.
The video shows the aircraft going into the loop manoeuvre before coming towards the camera.
It ends with images of the fireball, with the footage cutting out as the person filming throws themselves to the ground.
A clip filmed inside the aircraft’s cockpit was also shown to the court.
Lasting about a minute, the footage shows the jet performing a banking turn and a loop before inverting and descending, ending with the impact.
Jonathan Whaley, a “very experienced ex-Royal Navy pilot” who has flown more than 1,200 hours in a Hawker Hunter, had reviewed footage of the crash, prosecutor Mr Kark told the court.
Mr Whaley had concluded Mr Hill “made a conscious decision to pull through the loop even though he appeared to be too low to do so”, Mr Kark said.
Mr Whaley described this as a “cardinal sin,” the jury heard.
The court heard that Mr Whaley viewed the bent loop as “perhaps the highest risk manoeuvre in an aircraft which is not designed as pure aerobatic aircraft”, such as a Hawker Hunter.
Ten of the victims died instantaneously, the court heard, while the death of eleventh victim Maurice Abrahams would have been “rapid” once his car was engulfed in flames.
Outlining the case for the defence, Karim Khalil QC said g-forces had rendered Mr Hill “unable to properly and fully control the aircraft”.
He said the errors were “simply too numerous” to have been made by a pilot of Mr Hill’s experience unless he was suffering from “cognitive impairment”.
“He was not in full control of his actions,” Mr Khalil told the jury.
He said Mr Hill was “not a cavalier pilot” and was “not a pilot who plays fast and loose with the safety rules or the lives of others” and said the defence would provide evidence that the criticisms of Mr Hill were either “wrong or misplaced”.
Acknowledging previous mistakes made by Mr Hill at air shows, Mr Khalil said: “It would be a remarkable pilot indeed who had never made an error.”
However, the defence argued Mr Hill had “responded professionally” and taken steps to avoid repeating the mistakes.
Mr Kark told the jury: “Your task will be to examine the evidence and to decide whether or not you can be sure that the true reason Mr Hill crashed his aircraft was his dreadful negligence.”
He said the prosecution would argue a catalogue of errors had placed the aircraft in a position where a crash was inevitable.
“At the crucial point when Mr Hill committed to the downward part of the loop there was a serious and obvious risk of death to those on the ground – a risk that was to be tragically realised,” he said.
The trial is expected to last up to seven weeks.
The men who died
- Matt Jones, a 24-year-old personal trainer
- Matthew Grimstone, 23, a Worthing United footballer who worked as a groundsman at Brighton & Hove Albion
- Jacob Schilt, also 23 and also a Worthing United player, was travelling to a match with Mr Grimstone
- Maurice Abrahams, 76, from Brighton, was a chauffeur on his way to pick up a bride on her wedding day
- Friends Richard Smith, 26, and Dylan Archer, 42, who were going for a bike ride on the South Downs
- Mark Reeves, 53, had ridden his motorcycle to the perimeter of Shoreham Airport to take photos of the planes
- Tony Brightwell, 53, from Hove was an aircraft enthusiast and had learnt to fly at Shoreham airfield
- Mark Trussler, 54, had gone to watch the display on his Suzuki motorbike and was standing next to the road
- Daniele Polito, 23 was travelling in the same car as Mr Jones
- James “Graham” Mallinson, 72, from Newick, was a photographer and retired engineer