Shoreham crash pilot denies he was ‘cavalier’ while flying

The pilot whose plane crashed during the Shoreham Airshow, killing 11 men, has dismissed claims he ever had a “cavalier attitude” to flying.

Speaking for the first time in public since the 2015 crash, Andrew Hill stood in the witness box as he gave evidence at his trial in the Old Bailey on Wednesday.

The 1950s Hawker Hunter fighter jet plunged to the ground and exploded in a fireball on the A27 in West Sussex after Hill attempted a loop on August 22. The 54-year-old, of Sandon, Buntingford, Hertfordshire, denies 11 counts of manslaughter by gross negligence.

Prosecutors previously told the court the crash was due to “pilot error” and although Hill was normally considered “careful and competent”, he had taken “risks” in the past, suggesting he sometimes played “fast and loose” with the rules and may have had a “more cavalier attitude to safety than was appropriate”.

Andrew Hill walking to court on Wednesday morning. Credit: PA

Karim Khalil QC, defending, asked Hill if he was a “cavalier” pilot.

Dressed in a black suit, white shirt and dark blue tie, he replied: “I would say I was probably one of the least people that applied to, in the sense that there are ways to be cavalier and some people are, some people are not.

“I believe I took a very structured, disciplined approach to it (display flying).”

The jury of seven women and four men listened as he told the court he sometimes held back from flights he was not comfortable with carrying out, adding: “We have our strengths and weaknesses.”

Referring to Hill’s final display which ended with “catastrophic” consequences, Mr Khalil asked if he intended to cause risk to anybody.

Hill replied: “Absolutely not, for a multitude of reasons.

“It was the primary aim of the display to avoid risk.”

Before being called to give evidence, the defendant – who gave his full name as Andrew Grenville Hill – spent much of the morning bending down in the dock, moving around and making notes.

Credit: PA Graphics

As he began speaking in his defence Hill paused before telling the court his current state of health was “good”.

The jury previously heard of three incidents in 2014, a year before the crash, when there were concerns over Hill’s flying.

This included one of his displays which was halted with a stop call because he had performed a “dangerous manoeuvre”.

But some witnesses since described him as “safety conscious” and an “absolutely gentleman”.

The court was told he experienced “cognitive impairment” shortly before the crash and does not remember what happened.

He was thrown from the burning plane and told medics he “blacked out in the air” after he was found with blood on his face lying in undergrowth beside the cockpit.

A crane removing debris from the crash site. Credit: PA

The trained Royal Air Force instructor, who was a British Airways captain at the time, was taken to hospital with serious injuries and placed into an induced coma.

He had a fractured nose, ribs and part of his lower spine, a collapsed lung, and serious bruising among other injuries.

Hill had passed medical checks before the crash. Tests and scans carried out afterwards did not show any sign of a medical condition – including cognitive impairment – which may have affected his health leading up to the crash, the court heard.

Hill told the court he prepares for each of his flights by planning with a diagram on paper and walking through them.

He said he thinks he is "known" for the way he prepares before flight displays. Relatives of the crash victims sat in the packed courtroom quietly listening to his evidence.

Before he took off at North Weald airfield on the day of the crash, he was seen walking around in a green flying suit. He told the court he had been carrying out a practice by walking through the display, which is something he does with all his displays, after making diagrams of his routines on paper.

Jurors were shown more footage of Hill flying at different airshows. This included him carrying out the same "bent loop" stunt in the same aircraft at an airshow at Shannon Airport, Co Clare, Ireland, just over a month before the crash.

He said the display area at this airfield was "unobstructed" and it was a relatively straightforward space for flying.

The court heard him talk in great detail about his flying patterns and experience, at points using a model of the aircraft to demonstrate manoeuvres and movements to the jury.

Describing himself in court as an A-grade student, he grew up in Kent where he attended Tonbridge School – the private boarding school which counts Norman Heatley who turned penicillin into usable medicine among its alumni.

Mr Hill in court. Credit: Priscilla Coleman

Telling the court he was “reasonably academic”, Hill was then able to enrol at Cambridge University without taking the entrance exam and studied at Christ’s College. He began studying engineering and then transferred to computer science, graduating with an honours degree in 1985.

He went straight into the RAF, winning a competition when flying a Jet Provost and was ranked a top performing student so was selected – or as he called it “creamed off the top” – to become an instructor.

Training in combat, he took part in active service for a month in the 1990s monitoring no-fly zones in northern Iraq.

Hill also started to fly a Harrier – capable of vertical take-off and landing – and won an award for his work and ideas on improving aircraft safety procedures, the court heard.

Then he went into civil aviation, becoming a commercial pilot starting with Virgin Atlantic before moving to British Airways and progressing to the most senior position of captain.

The victims of the crash are: Maurice Abrahams, 76; Dylan Archer, 42; Tony Brightwell, 53; Matthew Grimstone, 23; Matt Jones, 24; Graham Mallinson, 72; Daniele Polito, 23; Mark Reeves, 53; Jacob Schilt, 23; Richard Smith, 26; and Mark Trussler, 54, who all lived in Sussex.

The trial continues.