Eleven men killed in a “devastating” plane crash during the Shoreham Airshow died “purely because of pilot error”, a court has heard.
Jurors were told Andy Hill’s Hawker Hunter jet “disintegrated” upon impact, creating a “massive fireball”, when it hit the ground in August 2015.
The aircraft was in “excellent working order”, the Old Bailey heard, and “serious negligence” was to blame.
Mr Hill, 54, denies 11 counts of manslaughter by gross negligence.
Tom Kark QC, prosecuting, told jurors the experienced pilot, from Sandon, Hertfordshire, had been performing a manoeuvre known as a bent loop before his aircraft hit the A27 in West Sussex.
Mr Hill had authorisation from the Civil Aviation Authority to display the Hawker Hunter at a minimum height of 100ft during flypasts and 500ft during manoeuvres.
During his Shoreham display, he did not reach the altitude required to complete the bent loop but “nevertheless continued the manoeuvre”, Mr Kark said.
“He did not have the height to pull the aircraft out of its dive, back to level flight at a safe height and, as a result he crashed into the ground,” he said.
“The effects of that crash were devastating and 11 people lost their lives as a result.”
Mr Hill’s “serious negligence” led directly to the deaths, Mr Kark said.
There is a “heavy responsibility which lies upon a pilot’s shoulders to plan their display carefully so that high standards are maintained and no one is put at risk,” Mr Kark said.
The jury was told Mr Hill “miraculously escaped because his cockpit separated from the rest of the aircraft ending in a ditch”.
“His seat was thrown out of the cockpit and he was left lying on the ground.
“He was saved by the bravery of firefighters, paramedics and a doctor who managed to get to him despite the fires that were still burning all around.”
‘Stop, stop, stop’
The court heard Mr Hill had served in the RAF between 1985 and 1994 before becoming a commercial pilot, and was a British Airways captain at the time of the crash.
The trial would hear from witnesses likely to describe Mr Hill as a “highly competent and experienced pilot,” Mr Kark said.
However, he told the court “there have also been times when he has taken risks or flown in a way one would not expect a careful and competent fast jet display pilot to do.”
The prosecutor said Mr Hill had “performed a dangerous manoeuvre” which “took him far too close to the crowd” during the 2014 Southport Air Show.
Mr Kark said the event’s flight director took the “rare” step of halting the display after a “stop, stop, stop” call was issued.
“Unfortunately, on this occasion in 2015 at Shoreham, no-one had time to call out a ‘stop’ and his display ended in tragedy,” he added.
Jurors were told the Air Accident Investigation Branch report on the crash would not form part of the prosecution’s case and should be disregarded.
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, is thought to have been riding his motorcycle on the A27
- Daniele Polito was travelling in the same car as Mr Jones
- Graham Mallinson, 72, from Newick, was a photographer and retired engineer