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Pilots should receive plane-specific aerobatics training, coroner says

A coroner has said he will recommend that pilots have plane-specific aerobatics training after two promising RAF trainees died when they were unable to recover their aircraft from a spin.

Ajvir Singh Sandhu, 25, and Cameron James Forster, 21, died in April when their light aircraft crashed into a field at Whitwell-on-the-Hill, in North Yorkshire.

Cameron James Forster and Ajvir Singh Sandhu

Coroner Michael Oakley said he will make recommendations about training and that the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) reviews its advice about parachutes for private planes.

The inquest, in Northallerton, heard that both men had extensive flying training and that Mr Sandhu, the pilot on the day of the crash, was trained in aerobatics.

But experts told the hearing that the procedure to recover from a spin in the Slingsby Firefly plane the men were flying was slightly different to that in other aircraft.

The inquest was told that Mr Sandhu went up on the aircraft with a flying instructor in January but did not perform any aerobatics during that flight.

On the day of the crash, on April 30, one eyewitness said she saw the plane "spiralling downwards in a corkscrew movement" as she drove near Castle Howard.

Another witness said he watched the plane perform several dives and heard the engine making a "spluttering" noise before the crash.

But Robert Vicory, an inspector with the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB), said he found no structural or mechanical failures or malfunctions with the aircraft, which he described as being in a good condition.

Post-mortem examinations found that Mr Sandhu, from Essex, died instantly from blunt head injuries and Mr Forster, from West Sussex, died from torso injuries.

Recording a verdict of accidental death, Mr Oakley said: "It's clear, from the evidence, that both had quite extensive flying training already in the Air Force. In particular, Mr Sandhu had a private pilot's licence and he also had spin training."

He continued: "On this occasion, he and Mr Forster took the plane from the airfield and started to perform aerobatic manoeuvres that were witnessed by people on the ground.

"It was during an aerobatic manoeuvre that the plane clearly started spinning. It clearly came out of the spin but not before there was not enough air or height for it to get out of the manoeuvre that was being conducted and impacted with considerable force into the ground."

The inquest heard that both pilots were found with the controls in their hands.

Mr Oakley said: "Obviously they were endeavouring clearly to get the aircraft under control but did not have enough height to do so."

The coroner described the crash as "pilot error" but added: "We do know this particular aircraft has a propensity sometimes to those who are not familiar to have perhaps more difficulty getting out of a spin.

"The other point that has been made is with difficulties getting out of a spin at a certain height, there may be a way out for people flying the aircraft by wearing a parachute.

"This plane was not carrying a parachute. That's something I consider does need perhaps looking at."

He continued: "Similarly, the issue has been made with regard to the specific spin training. There's the issue that every aircraft may have its own idiosyncrasies and clearly this aircraft does have that."

Amanda Jayne, Mr Forster's mother, and her partner James White agreed with the coroner's recommendations.

Ms Jayne said: "It's disappointing to feel that some accidents could be possibly avoided if they had had parachutes and I would like to endorse my recommendation that pilots who are going up to perform spinning in particular should consider wearing parachutes."

Mr White added: "That's one thing I hope comes out of it and the thing about specific training, or at least more information on spin recovery procedures. It could save other lives and that is key."