A former mechanic from Birmingham and his co-pilot from Stratford whose plane lost contact with air traffic control over the English Channel were not qualified to fly in cloud, air accident investigators have said.
Brian Statham, who last lived in Solihull and previously had a garage in Castle Vale, Erdington, and his co-pilot, Lee Rogers, from Stratford, flew from Wellesbourne Mountford airfield to Le Touquet airport on the north coast from France on the morning of Saturday 2 April.
The pair, with over 20 years of flying experience between them, flew in a Piper Cherokee Arrow II, G-EGVA, one of seven planes in a “fly out” club with South Warwickshire Flying School. Cloud was scheduled on their route and both were flying under ‘visual flight rules’ – what they could see, neither being qualified to fly using the aircraft‘s instruments.
Read more : Family pays tribute to ‘caring’ ex-mechanic who died in plane crash
The duo would have entered a cloud above the channel then contact was lost with them 20 nautical miles west of Le Touquet shortly before 9:20 a.m. Warwickshire Police previously said the pair encountered ‘abnormal weather’ on the canal, although crash investigators said ‘the cloud was expected’ and actually seen by pilots en route.
The plane descended and then climbed with investigators believing the pilots may have been trying to avoid the cloud. At the last point of contact, it spun and descended at a speed of over 100 mph (10,000 feet per minute), where it is believed to have crashed into the channel.
A special bulletin issued by the Air Accidents Investigation Board on May 13 stated: “It is not possible to know the intentions of the pilots, but these altitude changes may have been an attempt to avoid cloud. Once at 7,000 feet, they were unable to climb any higher due to the controlled airspace above.
“Shortly after reaching 7,000 feet, the aircraft’s radio transmission confirmed that the aircraft had entered cloud. Neither occupant was qualified to fly in cloud. It is not known whether they entered the cloud inadvertently.
“Video recording from G-EGVA and photographs from the other aircraft show that the cloud was clearly defined and visible several miles away. So there should have been plenty of time to turn back if they weren’t able to bypass the cloud.”
He continued: “It is possible that the occupants’ previous experience of flying through the clouds without incident encouraged them to attempt to cross them on this occasion. It is unclear when exactly the aircraft entered the clouds. clouds.
“However, minutes before the aircraft was lost from radar, the aircraft began to vary its heading and altitude before descending into an increasingly steep right turn. The forecast severe turbulence and icing in clouds may have contributed to the deviation from controlled flight.
“When the last radio transmission was made, the aircraft was descending through 7,000 feet at approximately 3,000 fpm. At the last radar fix, the aircraft was past 4,600 feet and descending at just under 10,000 ft/min .
“The initial assessment indicated that the damage to the seat recovered from G-EGVA and its release from the aircraft was consistent with the airframe having been subjected to considerable forces and substantial disruption.”
Read more : Two missing after plane that took off in Warwickshire crashes in the English Channel
Crash investigators said control of the plane was lost when it entered “a very active cumulus cloud, which had been forecast”. It said: “None of the occupants were qualified to fly in IMC [instrument meteorological conditions]. It is likely that the aircraft was substantially damaged on impact with the sea.
“The radar evidence suggests the aircraft struck the water with a high rate of descent and the seat damage that was discovered suggests the aircraft was subjected to considerable forces and substantial disturbance. It is therefore unlikely that the occupants had a chance to escape the aircraft.
The AAIB report added: “It is very dangerous to enter clouds when not suitably qualified or when not in current instrument flight practice. The AAIB has investigated numerous accidents where control of an aircraft has been lost after intentionally or inadvertently entering cloud under these circumstances.
He was referring to the Civil Aviation Authority’s Safety Sense leaflet which states: ‘More than three quarters of pilots killed when they lost control in IMC were flying in instrument conditions without an instrument rating.
“Disorientation can affect anyone, especially those who have not been trained enough to fly on instruments and who have not remained in practice. It is important to be able to see and recognize clouds early enough for the safely avoid.
Read more : Missing plane that disappeared over the English Channel took off in the Midlands
And the CAA Skyway Code which adds: “Don’t succumb to the belief that ‘the weather is never as bad as expected’. If this is sometimes the case, it is very often the exception that breaks the rule and causes the accident.
“Decision-making is usually easier on the ground, away from the added pressure of piloting the plane – it’s tempting to take off to ‘take a look’, but it might tempt you to start a flight then that it is not safe to do so.
“If you’re faced with a decision to make in the air, do it within the parameters you set for yourself at the start of the flight – there’s no point in calculating a safe altitude if once in the air you think ‘oh I’m sure going down a few hundred feet further will be OK’.’
Despite searches organized by the British and French aeronautical rescue coordination centres, neither the bodies of the two men nor their plane have been found. But objects from the plane washed up on the French coast, including a bag containing a pilot‘s flight license, a flight log and other flight documents. A knee board and a creased passenger seat.
Mr Statham grew up in Coleshill and ran a garage in Castle Vale for over 40 years. His family have already paid tribute and said: “Brian was one of the most caring, kind and honest men in the world. He always put his family and friends first and never refused to solve or to help solve the problems he encountered.
“Brian was a larger than life character, still living his life to the fullest. He will be greatly missed by all.”
While the family also paid tribute to Mr Rogers, who worked in IT at Alcester, saying: ‘Anyone who knew Lee will bear witness to a larger than life character who lived his life to the fullest, a man with a big heart and unlimited generosity. He will leave a great wake behind him and will be greatly missed – not only by his family but by his legion of friends and colleagues.
Get the latest city news with our Birmingham News email updates.