Northern Ireland

Inquest hears of final moments in fatal air crash

Stephen Annett, Andrew Burden and Hugh McKnight were from Annalong
Image caption Stephen Annett, Andrew Burden and Hugh McKnight were from Annalong

A light aircraft stalled seconds before it nosedived, killing three people an inquest heard on Monday.

Pilot Hugh McKnight, 53, a retired police officer, Steven Annett, 25, and Andrew Burden, 24, died when their plane crashed in Kikeel, County Down.

The plane slowed so much while approaching an airstrip in limited visibility that it fell and burst into flames, an expert investigator said.

The friends were returning from the Isle of Man TT motorcycle races.

Geraint Herbert, a senior inspector at the Air Accident Investigation Branch of the Department for Transport, said: "The reduction in power would have led to reduction in airflow over the wings

"This combined with a reduced air speed caused the aircraft to stall.

The victims had to be identified by their dental records because their bodies were unrecognisably burned by the fireball, pathology reports said.

They suffered multiple injuries and died instantly before the blaze started.

The pilot, Mr McKnight, had switched to the Kilkeel airfield en route from the Isle of Man because of poor conditions at another airstrip.

Flames

But by the time he reached Kilkeel low hanging cloud and drizzle had rolled in off the Irish Sea.

Mr Herbert told the Newry inquest that the stall was caused by the air over the wings becoming "rough" as the plane slowed and turned to approach the runway.

That meant there was not enough lift generated to keep the craft in the air and it plummeted to the ground.

The inspector added that as he tried to land at the airfield the pilot was flying in higher than normal and reduced power.

"It is possible that the pilot did this to lower the aircraft's approach path," he added.

The engine was still running and the inspector said Mr McKnight would have given it full power to try to take it into the air again.

Peter Trainor was in his kitchen 100 yards from the accident near Belmont Road.

"I saw the plane dive towards the ground at approximately 45 degrees angle.

"It impacted the ground with a loud bang and burst into flames, the flames went up a good height."

Another neighbour said she heard a bang from the engine like a car backfiring.

Mr McKnight, from Kilkeel Road, Annalong, had flown the two passengers to the Isle of Man on the morning of 13 June.

Multiple injuries

He returned to County Down that evening with another man, Gareth McKnight, and the flight had been uneventful.

It was after he returned for Mr Annett and Mr Burden, that the accident happened.

Another air accident investigator from the Department for Transport, Peter Coombs, said most of the plane was made of wood and had been destroyed by the fire.

The engine was the only readily identifiable part to have survived.

Mr Coombs said the aircraft was structurally complete prior to the accident and it had a certificate of air-worthiness with no indications of significant defects in the weeks before the accident.

Coroner John Leckey expressed his sympathies to family members of the victims, who packed the courtroom.

He ruled that the pilot made a tight right turn as he approached the airfield.

The engine was heard to stutter and the aircraft nosedived and crashed headfirst into the field.

He added the victims died from multiple injuries sustained during the accident.

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