Bad weather sparked Somerset plane crash which left two dead

Joe Mann, 69, died after losing control of his aircraft in cloud over Somerset. Credit: AAIB/Family photo

A talented Devon pilot and his passenger died after their plane crashed into a tree during poor weather.

Jonathan Mann, 69, known as Joe, was not qualified to fly in the cloud and lost control of his light aircraft over Buckland St Mary, Somerset, in 2021.

The Sidmouth man and his passenger Margaret Costa, 74, were killed in the crash on August 12.

A report published by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch has said that the couple perished after a "breakdown in communication" with Air Traffic Control.

They added that critical information was omitted and made seven safety recommendations to prevent the tragedy from happening again.

Mr Mann and Ms Costa took off from Watchford Farm in Somerset and were heading to St Mary's on the Isles of Scilly for a day trip.

A map shared by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch shows Mr Mann's flight path before the crash. Credit: AAIB

The weather when they left was described by witnesses as clear skies and good visibility.

However, according to the report, Mr Mann "found himself stuck above cloud during a cross country flight under visual flight rules".

The married father-of-four made an urgent call saying he was unable to land back at Watchford Farm because he was stuck above a cloud.

The AAIB report said that when Mr Mann asked for help in finding an appropriate airfield to land at, "the level of Air Traffic Control (ATC) support from the Distress and Diversion Cell and Exeter ATC was not sufficient to provide the assistance required by the pilot, who was in a state of distress".

At 9.20am on 12 August 2021, his plane struck an oak tree on Lower Colley Farm in Buckland St Mary and both Mr Mann and Ms Costa died of their injuries.

At the time, the pilot's family said: "He was a great man and a talented pilot; the world feels a colder place without his warmth and good humour.

"Joe leaves behind wife Diane, four daughters, three grandsons and a baby granddaughter born in lockdown.

"All the family had been looking forward to making up for lost time together this year.

"In his lifetime he led campaigns securing fairer rights for blind and disabled workers and was a great champion for the more vulnerable.

"He set a strong example in standing up for what he believed in and was a dearly loved pillar of the family."

Margaret Costa was an artist from East Devon who specialised in "fore-edge" paintings, which are hidden watercolours painted on the edges of book pages.

In the days following the crash, her family said the world felt like "a less colourful place without her".

She was described as a "much-loved mum and a nanny to four grandchildren" and "the foundation stone of the family".

"She blessed those she knew with many beautiful memories to remember her by," the family statement said.

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