Aviation Specialists Analyse Special Bulletin Into Shoreham Air Show Crash

Lawyers Highlight Key Areas For Future Investigation


Dave Grimshaw, Press Officer | 0114 274 4397

Specialist aviation lawyers at Irwin Mitchell who have experience of organising and flying in air shows as well as investigating incidents where manoeuvres have tragically gone wrong, say that there is still work to do to determine what caused the crash following publication of a Special Bulletin by the authorities.

A Hawker Hunter T7 aircraft involved in an air show in Shoreham crashed into the westbound carriageway of the A27 after a failed manoeuvre on 22 August killing 11 members of the public and leaving the pilot with serious injuries.

A Special Bulletin just released by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) states that the weather and visibility were good and the organisation confirmed it had received a large amount of video footage and photographs of the aircraft from a variety of locations and stated that it would be analysing these to establish the flight path and speed as well as the parameters of the aircrafts manoeuvres. 

Irwin Mitchell represents victims injured and the families of those who died when a helicopter crashed into the Clutha Vaults Pub in Glasgow in November 2013.

Jim Morris, a former RAF pilot and specialist aviation lawyer at Irwin Mitchell worked as a flying display coordinator at air shows in RAF Leuchars and RAF Waddington. He said of the AAIB’s special bulletin: 

Expert Opinion
“There are several factors that are crucial to finding out what caused this terrible tragedy and the AAIB’s report hints at the direction in which the investigation will now turn which includes the height and speed of the aircraft during its final manoeuvre.

“Having reviewed the video footage of the Shoreham crash, and having performed these aerobatic manoeuvres myself in the Hawk aircraft, clearly something went catastrophically wrong during the last manoeuvre - in the final stages just before impact the wings wobbled, indicating that the wings could have been starting to stall.

“The AAIB will need to compare the height and airspeed the aircraft should have been at during the apex of the final manoeuvre with what the actual data shows. If there are any differences, analysis as to what caused any divergence and its relevance will need to be determined.”
Jim Morris, Partner


Analysing the Special Bulletin on behalf of the Irwin Mitchell’s Aviation Team Jim Morris says that so far the key points are:

  • There have been no problems found with aircraft to date
  • The aircraft had been refuelled to full before it took off and further investigation is needed as to how its weight during this display flight may have affected its handling characteristics and the severity of the explosion
  • At the apex of the failed manoeuvre the AAIB indicate that the aircraft was approximately 2600ft above sea level and at a minimum speed of 100 knots. Further work needs to be done to calculate the speeds and heights it should have been travelling at and whether the aircraft could perform the rest of the planned manoeuvre and recover level flight at or above the agreed display minima heights. The AAIB Report states that these minimas were 100ft for a flypast and 500ft for manoeuvres. 
  • The pilot was very experienced and capable and was fully qualified for the routine he was performing. However the report identifies that only 40 hours of his 14,000 hours experience was on this particular aircraft and the AAIB needs to determine if this was a relevant factor
  • There was no black box on the aircraft as it is a military plane – but there were two cockpit cameras which are being analysed 
  • It is not yet known whether the pilot, who suffered serious injuries, attempted to initiate an ejection from the aircraft or if he and his seat were thrown free on impact – this may give an indication as to whether he was incapacitated during the final stages of the manoeuvre.
Expert Opinion
“Ultimately for any aircraft performing aerobatic manoeuvres at low level the risks are high and there is little room for error – hence the need for stringent rules on flight paths, display lines, minimum heights and qualification and experience of the pilots, serviceability of aircraft, and approvals of each aerobatic routine including the correct speeds and manoeuvre heights.

“I know first-hand how meticulous the organizers and crews have to be to comply with the rules and regulations to ensure the displays are as safe as possible. But the fact is that if something goes wrong while an aircraft is performing high energy manoeuvres at low height the effects over a wide area can be catastrophic.

“The prompt release of this special bulletin is welcomed, however the AAIB needs to quickly determine the full chain of events so that the causes of the crash are understood and appropriate measures to improve flight safety in air displays can be implemented.”
Jim Morris, Partner

Irwin Mitchell represents and is advising the families of people who were tragically killed as well as people who were injured in the Shoreham air crash. If you would like to speak in confidence to an expert regarding this accident, or any other aviation incident you were involved in, see our Shoreham Air Accident page for more information or alternatively our Air Accident Claims page.