Shoreham Airshow trial: Ryanair captain saw Andy Hill perform banned manoeuvre at practice

A Ryanair captain who flew in the cockpit with Andrew Hill during practice displays for the Shoreham air show saw him go over the crowd area, a banned manoeuvre, a court heard.

Eleven men died in the Shoreham Airshow tragedy
Eleven men died in the Shoreham Airshow tragedy

Pilot Andrew Hill, 54, is standing trial at the Old Bailey for 11 manslaughter by gross negligence charges, and one count of endangering an aircraft under air navigation laws following the crash on August 22 2015.

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His Hawker Hunter jet crashed onto the A27, tragically killing 11 men.

Pilot Andy Hill was attempting a loop stunt when his Hawker Hunter jet crashed. Picture: Getty

The prosecution say that Hill was in full control of the aircraft and ‘pilot error’ led to the deaths of 11 men.

However defence barrister Karim Khalil QC has argued that Hill was not in control of the aircraft during the fateful 'bent loop' manoeuvre.

Hill had been performing a “bent loop” stunt at the popular air show when the crash happened.

It was said he did not reach the required height but continued with the stunt anyway.

Hill, a trained Royal Air Force instructor and fast jet pilot, was seriously injured but survived the tragedy after being thrown from the aircraft.

The court previously heard he was known to “take risks”.

It was said in a “rare” turn of events just a year before, Hill’s display had to be stopped at the Southport air show because a stunt “took him far too close to the crowd”.

Flying in an air show is restricted under various rules - the pilot cannot not fly any aerobatic stunt below 500 feet, meaning he or she has to be able to level the jet out at 500 feet if necessary.

Also the aircraft cannot fly over crowd lines.

MORE FROM THE TRIAL: Shoreham airshow crash pilot was 1,000 feet too low for loop-the-loop, prosecutors sayBen Watts, a line training instructor with Ryanair who got his commercial pilot licence 20 years ago, was in the cockpit when Hill went over crowd lines during a practice display for the Shoreham Air Show In 2014.

The owner of the aircraft offered Mr Watts the chance to fly with Hill as he was aiming to increase his experience in fast jets.

Mr Watts said: “The reason I was on board was for my own exposure, I was really there to soak up as much information as I could during the flight.

“Prior to the flight we had a quick chat where Andy Hill went through what was going to happen during the flight.”

Mr Watts was observing as a passenger in the jet.

The pair flew to Duxford air field by the Imperial War Museum to do the display practice for Shoreham Air Show in 2014 as Shoreham was unavailable at the time.

Tom Kark, prosecuting, said: “Do you remember while you were in the air there was contact from the control tower?”

Mr Watts said: “Yes, we were at the beginning of the display, we were coming into one of the first aerobatic manoeuvres, the beginning of the loop, when we got a message from the ground - it just stated ‘crowd line’.”

Mr Kark asked: “How did Mr Hill respond?”

Mr Watts said: “He acknowledged it.”

A GoPro video was shown in court of their flight together, which included a loop.

Mr Watts said in a statement in 2017 that he believed when the jet reached the top of a loop the speed was “low”.

Mr Watts said: “The speed was 150 knots at the top of the loop.

“I thought it was quite slow, but I was familiar with it being slow at the top of the loop.

“I commented to Andy whether it was correct ... if that was a normal speed.

“He said it was normal.”

The court heard after questioning from Hill’s lawyer, Karim Khalil, that Mr Watts later changed his statement after reviewing the footage and said he believed the speed was 170 knots.

Mr Khalil said: “When you went back over the footage what you saw was 170 knots.”

Mr Watts said: “The 150 knots, that was just my memory at the time.”

He added that Hill had “very much involved him” in the flight experience.

He also said he didn’t know himself where the crowd line was and didn’t ask Hill about it later.

Mr Watts said: “No, it didn’t seem to be a big problem.”