On 22 August 2015 a Hawker Hunter T7 aircraft involved in an air show in Shoreham, West Sussex, crashed into the westbound carriageway of the A27 during an aerobatic manoeuvre, killing 11 members of the public and leaving the pilot with serious injuries.

The cause of this tragic accident is not yet known. The AAIB has so far released three special bulletins on this accident in which they reveal the initial findings of the investigation and make a number of safety recommendations. A final accident report is not expected until summer 2015. Based on the initial findings, the key points are as follows:

  • There have been no problems found with the aircraft to date.
  • The aircraft had been refueled 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 minima were 100ft for a fly-past 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 analyzed.
  • 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.
  • The Flying Display Director did not know the details of the aerobatic sequence in advance of the display.
  • The pilot’s display authorization check was done in a different aircraft type, not the Hawker Hunter.

On 22 March 2016 the first pre inquest review was held at County Hall North in Horsham. Our aviation team appeared for families of victims tragically killed in the accident and will be conducting the advocacy on their behalf at the inquest. Although no evidence was presented at the pre inquest review, it was revealed that the AAIB have spoken to over 300 witnesses and examined over 3,000 documents. Penelope Schofield, senior coroner for West Sussex, indicated that in light of the substantial evidence that must be considered the inquest is likely to take some time, provisionally listing the inquest for eight weeks commencing in March 2017. It is hoped that the inquest will determined the full chain of events so that the causes of the crash are understood and appropriate measures to improve flight safety in air displays will be implemented. 

In terms of the law applicable to this tragedy, section 76 (2) of the Civil Aviation Act 1982 imposes strict liability on the owner of the aircraft where damage is caused to anybody or any property on land by an aircraft whilst in flight. This means that damages for the tragic losses and injuries are recoverable from the owner without having to prove negligence or intention.

Irwin Mitchell represents and is advising the families of people who were tragically killed as well as people who were injured in this accident. If you would like to speak in confidence to an expert regarding this accident, or any other aviation incident you were involved in, please contact a member of the aviation team on 0800 056 4110. The team will be able to advise you on the accident, the relevant law and the parties who may be liable.

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