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Child’s Death Raises Questions For British Tour Operator

Six-year-old Thomas Horne and his parents were returning to their hotel after a day out to Angel Falls when the plane they were travelling in crashed while taking off in stormy weather.

Thomas suffered serious head injuries and died shortly afterwards.

An Air Accident Investigation Branch inspector expressed surprise at the severity of Thomas’ injuries despite the impact of the crash being “not terribly severe”. This led to the coroner recording a verdict of accidental death, but citing the absence of shoulder straps within the plane as a significant factor in Thomas’ death. Thomas’ parent also revealed that they were not given a safety briefing before take-off.

Thomas’s mother, Jane, said of the incident: “Thomas was our wonderful, beautiful son and our only child and this has been the most horrific experience of our lives. It is something we will never be able to forget.

“Tragically, nothing can ever bring Thomas back but we would never want any other family to have to go through what we have been through and what we continue to go through every day. The whole point in instructing Irwin Mitchell was to get answers and to get justice for Thomas but also to try and change something.

“We know Thomas died from catastrophic injuries but we strongly believe that his death was due to pilot error and to the fact that there were not sufficiently robust safety procedures in place on the flight. Nothing will ever change our view that he may have survived had he been wearing a four-point safety harness.

“We are also gravely concerned to hear that there had been another crash involving First Choice customers just a few years earlier on the same trip on which we were travelling. It shows that something was wrong and makes us even more sure that Thomas’s tragic death was wholly avoidable

“All parents want their children to be safe. Sadly, we won’t get a second chance for Thomas, and that is utterly heartbreaking, but if we can change something and ensure tour operators put the safety of passengers first, and especially children, then that at least will be something,” she said.

“We urge all tour operators, including First Choice, to look carefully at who they use to provide trips for their customers on holiday, and to take a detailed look at the safety records of those companies.

“And we demand that they do it now – for the sake of Thomas and for the sake of the thousands of children, families and customers who will pay good money to travel with them in the future.

“People put their trust in these tour companies, and the companies they use, just like we did. They deserve to have that trust repaid.

“Now that the inquest is over, we will begin the difficult process of rebuilding our lives. But Thomas will be forever in our thoughts and we will never forget the joy he brought us.”

Clive Garner, partner and head of the Travel Litigation Team at Irwin Mitchell, is representing Mr and Mrs Horne. He said: “This is truly a tragic case. No parents should ever have to go through what Mr and Mrs Horne have been through in the past few months and our sympathies are with them at this very difficult time.

“But the simple fact is that Thomas’ death should never have happened and we share his family’s views and their determination to do everything possible to ensure that accidents like this don’t happen in the future.

The most common causes of aviation crashes are human error and mechanical faults but I am also very concerned by the reports of a failure to give adequate safety instructions to passengers.

“It is even more alarming that since the accident in April this year, I have been contacted by passengers who, only a few years earlier, were injured in another Cessna crash which occurred on a similar excursion from Margarita island to Angel falls in Venezuela. In that case, several British passengers sustained serious injuries. Again the tour operator that sold the excursion to those who were injured was First Choice.

“For there to be two similar incidents in such a short period of time is a matter of great concern and serious questions have to be asked about the safety record of the excursion providers and, frankly, whether First Choice should have been doing business with them in the first place.

“Meanwhile, I urge all British Tour Operators to demand better safety standards from the operators of aircraft that their clients use for excursions or other trips. Compliance with enhanced safety standards should be regularly monitored so that the risk of accidents is reduced and passengers can have peace of mind."

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