1. ITV Report

Pilot died after crocodile escaped on plane

Pilot died after crocodile (like this one) escaped on plane Photo: DAN HIMBRECHTS/AAP/Press Association Images

An inquest in Gloucester has heard how a plane crash, which killed a British pilot in the Congo may have been caused by passengers panicking over an escaped crocodile. 39 year old Chris Wilson died alongside 18 others when the jet he was co-piloting plunged to the ground during a routine flight across the African country.

At his inquest today the only surviving passenger claimed the crocodile spooked a cabin crew member who ran towards the cockpit and the passengers followed, possibly causing the plane to crash with the sudden change in weight balance. Local media reports at the time claimed the croc, thought to be two to three meters in length had escaped from a passenger's holdall.

The inquest heard Chris had been flying from the capital, Kinshasa, to Bandundu airport on August 25 2010, when the tragedy happened. The small plane, which was full to capacity with passengers, was beginning its descent to land when it suddenly "fell out the sky like a leaf".

Assistant Coroner David Dooley read out an email from Chris' dad Rob to Congonese officials.

"Rob Wilson he said he had spoken to the original investigator on the site who said that there was a gentleman who came up with a story about a crocodile.

"There is apparently a video of the crocodile being taken out of the plane.

"They think it may have frightened the cabin crew member and she ran forward, with the other passengers following.

"The weight shift caused by the panic may have affected the plan causing it to nose dive or stall."

"It would have been a maximum of two or three feet in length.

"We don't know if one was being carried for certain, although it was apparently quite normal for animals and chickens to be carried on the plane, it was used like a taxi in this regard."

– Rob Wilson email to Congonese officials

A number of different explanations had been put forward for the sudden crash, but none had been proven, the inquest was told. Assistant Coroner David Dooley said evidence had been put forward about a fuel shortage, the over-loading of the plane, pilot error, an engine failure, maintenance issues and a mass surge of passengers to the front of the plane.

Timothy Atkinson, an air accident investigator, said he had reviewed the evidence given to him by Congolese authorities but was unable to draw any definitive conclusions because they were not handed over the black box.The court heard sabotage of the plane may also have been a possibility as rival companies fiercely competed for business.Mr Dooley said there was not enough evidence to conclude any one of the factors had caused the crash, and said contradicting evidence had been presented for all.

"Problems with direct witnesses and problems with the black box have only resulted in vague guesses as to what happened with this crash. All we have are possibilities rather than probabilities.

"I don't believe any further efforts could have been made to obtain any further information."

– David Dooley, Assistant Coroner