Pilot who died in plane crash near Heathfield ‘likely suffered cardiac event’

A pilot of a light aircraft who died after crashing into a field near Heathfield likely suffered a cardiac event shortly after take-off, a report has revealed.

Friday, 5th March 2021, 11:36 am
Updated Friday, 5th March 2021, 11:43 am

The aircraft – a Rans S6-116 Coyote II – lost control shortly after taking off from Bradley’s Lawn Airstrip in Cross in Hand on August 4, last year, a report by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch said.

In the report, witnesses described seeing the aircraft make a spiral descent to the ground followed by a large bang and plume of smoke.

The report said: “The plane experienced a loss of control in flight shortly after take-off, which resulted in a steep spiral descent.

The scene of the fatal plane crash near Heathfield

“The aircraft struck the ground and a post-impact fire started shortly afterwards.

“Although engine failure could not be discounted, the loss of control was probably the result of the pilot suffering a cardiac event resulting in incapacitation shortly after take-off.”

The pilot had intended to fly to Popham Airfield in Hampshire, where his partner had probably already landed, the report said.

The pilot’s partner had planned to fly her own aircraft to Popham from another departure airfield, meeting up airborne with the pilot prior to arrival.

A police officer at the scene of the fatal plane crash near Heathfield

On the day of the accident, the pilot advised his partner by text message that his departure was delayed, and he would fly direct to Popham and meet her there.

The landowner commented that the pilot did not seem to be in a hurry.

He added that the take-off ‘looked and sounded normal’, watching the plane take to the skies before turning away. But moments later, he heard a loud bang and saw a column of black smoke and flames rising upwind of the airstrip.

Another witness, standing on the other side of the valley where the aircraft crashed, said they heard two further bangs.

The landowner alerted the emergency services at just after 10am. They arrived in ten minutes and the pilot was sadly confirmed dead.

The AAIB investigation into the crash found that the plane’s engine had been regularly serviced by the pilot, and was last overhauled in August 2011, before it was installed in the aircraft.

The pilot suffered from hypertension and had been diagnosed with a cardiac condition, the report said.

It added that the pathologist found his death was ‘entirely consistent with a medical event, of likely cardiac origin occurring shortly after take-off with unconsciousness and cardiorespiratory failure occurring prior to the crash’ – and ‘there was no evidence to suggest that the pilot was alive at the time of the impact or when the fire started’.