News Plane Crashes — 26 October 2017

A pilot flying his father-in-law on a day trip to Oxford crashed and died just moments after take-off, an inquest heard.

Thomas William Battersby, 58, known as William among family and friends, died at Bourn Airfield just before midday on October 17 last year.

Mr Battersby, who was married, lived in Trumpington and worked as a financial consultant, took off from the airfield after completing the necessary checks on the Cessna 150 aircraft, the inquest into his death at Lawrence Court in Huntingdon heard today (Wednesday, October 25).

However, due to the flaps of the aircraft being “unintentionally deployed” at 40 degrees, Mr Battersby failed to climb through the air and later crashed after trying to avoid trees at the end of the runway.

Witnesses told how they rushed over and dragged the two men from the aircraft, but CPR was performed on Mr Battersby “to no avail”.

There was nothing wrong with Mr Battersby which would have contributed to the tragedy, nor any drugs or alcohol in his system, the inquest heard.

Richard Francis, chief flying instructor at the Rural Flying Corps based in Bourn, told how he was on the runway in an aircraft behind Mr Battersby.

He said: “Both myself and my colleague noticed the aircraft had its landing flaps deployed and William was no more than 20 to 25 feet off the ground.

“I radioed through to say something like ‘be careful – flaps’ but nothing much seemed to change after that.

“It seemed to go on for a very long time, but was probably only 20 seconds or so. I had a horrible suspicion what was going to happen next; then I saw the aircraft go into the ground.

“We all rushed over to help; the aircraft was leaking fuel but the electrics were still on. Because of the fire risk we wanted to get both occupants out.

“One man [William’s father-in-law] had injuries but was conscious and sort of able to walk.

“William was harder to extract from the aircraft because of the damage [to the plane]. He was in a bad way.

“CPR was performed on him and paramedics later took over, but this was to no avail and he was unconscious throughout.”

“The plane started to drop very suddenly”

Margaret Dean, senior inspector at the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB), said a report revealed the “most logical conclusion” was that the aircraft flaps were unintentionally left deployed by Mr Battersby on setting off from the runway.

She said Mr Battersby had nine hours of training with instructors in the aircraft before the day of his death – but that most of his flying background was with aircrafts without flaps.

She added: “William attempted to clear the trees by climbing and turning left, but the aircraft wing stalled and the plane started to drop, nose down, very suddenly.

“He had not recognised until a very late stage that the aircraft was not flying properly.”

Mrs Dean said Mr Battersby had used an aircraft checklist from another flying club, which was “generally not a good idea” and had made handwritten amendments.

He had made the necessary action to raise the flaps before take-off, but was trying to save power and had done this when the electricity was not turned on – meaning the flaps were accidentally left deployed.

She said it was “less likely” that the accident would have happened had Mr Battersby chosen to fly in the newer Cessna 152 aircraft, which had “better indications” about the aircraft flaps.

However, when Mr Battersby was training in the Cessna 152, the seat had shifted and this is thought to have dissuaded him from using the newer model.

Mrs Dean told how there had been previous accidents in the Cessna 150 because pilots had been flying with the flaps at 40 degrees “without probably intending to”.

“Problem highlighted to current flying instructors”

She added: “Our report mentions safety recommendations on the Cessna 150…it’s a 50-year-old design, an old aircraft.

“There would be the option to fit a warning device, but I don’t think the industry would attempt that.

“What has slipped through the net is how other people have made that mistake [with the flaps] and why they did.

“There could be some steps to improve this problem through training and making more instructors aware [of the risk].

“We have recommended to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to contact current flying instructors and highlight this problem; we believe they will take that action.”

Recording a verdict of accidental death, assistant coroner for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, David Scott Morris, said Mr Battersby was an experienced flyer but was unfamiliar with the Cessna 150 aircraft.

He said: “The medical cause of death was multiple traumatic injuries. When Thomas Battersby got into the aircraft, he went through his check list but the switch to move the flaps had no effect because the power was not switched on [until a later stage].

“The aircraft comes off the ground but doesn’t gain any height, and he doesn’t seem to have appreciated that until he is approaching the trees where he then landed.

“He then took aversive action, but sadly the wing of the plane stalled and he crashed into the ground, causing fatal injuries.”

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