Gallery and update: Investigations into light aircraft crash continue as witnesses describe seeing the aircraft “attempting a somersault” before going down

Emergency services on the scene of a light aircraft crash in Essex. Photo: Essex County Fire and Rescue Service Emergency services on the scene of a light aircraft crash in Essex. Photo: Essex County Fire and Rescue Service

Sunday, March 30, 2014
9:25 AM

An investigation is continuing after a pilot and his passenger were killed when their light aircraft burst into flames as it crashed into a field in Essex.

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The two men were travelling in a Yak 52 plane when they got into difficulties at around 2.55pm yesterday after flying out of North Weald airfield.

Witnesses described how the training aircraft had been attempting a somersault before going down in a rural area between Ongar and Writtle, near Chelmsford.

The aircraft was “completely alight” when firefighters arrived at the scene near Cooksmill Green, Essex Fire and Rescue Service said.

A spokesman said: “On arrival the incident commander reported that the plane was completely alight.

“Crews used foam and had extinguished the fire by 3.55pm.”

Paul Aston, from the church at Cooksmill, said: “It sounded just like a road traffic accident. There was the sound of a light aircraft then this crump and then silence.

“There wasn’t a bang.

“We have lots of light aircraft fly over us, it’s nothing abnormal.”

North Weald airfield is owned by Epping Forest District Council.

Deputy Chief Executive of the council, Derek Macnab, went to the scene soon after the incident.

He said: ‘People at North Weald Airfield are shocked and dismayed following reports of an aircraft crash at Cooksmill Green earlier this afternoon.

‘Details are yet to be confirmed but our thoughts and condolences are with the family and friends of those involved.’

A police spokeswoman said: “Emergency services rushed to the scene and fire crews extinguished the fire caused when the plane crashed. Two men, a pilot and his passenger - both from Essex - were on board. The plane had flown out from North Weald airfield.”

Sam Gildersleeve, from Ongar, said he was having lunch with friends when he saw the plane flying low close to the A414 near Cooksmill Green.

Mr Gildersleeve told the BBC: “At this point we all looked at the sky and the plane attempted to do a somersault unsuccessfully, we heard a popping sound and noticed the plane did not re-emerge.

“We then noticed smoke coming from the site in the field where the plane had crashed. Shortly after the emergency services appeared.”

Two people were also killed when a Yak 52 aircraft from North Weald crashed in April 2011.

Instructor Simon Hulme, 33, and his 43-year-old student, Spencer Bennett, died when their plane crashed near Langford, east of Chelmsford.

An inquest in Chelmsford in 2012 heard they were on the last day of a three-day formation flying school when the aircraft spun and plummeted from 1,800ft into a lake.

The jury returned verdicts of accidental death after hearing nearly two hours of evidence.

In January 2003, Falklands veteran Anthony Hunt, 48, died along with his brother Ian, 45, when their aircraft crashed in a field on the Easton Neston estate, near Towcester, Northamptonshire, while practising aerobatic manoeuvres.

His family were awarded £270,000 damages by the High Court in 2006 after an investigation found that during maintenance a short screwdriver had become wedged into the wires that operated the rear elevators of the plane.

The Yakovlev Yak 52 is a two-seater propeller aircraft first built in the Soviet Union in the 1970s.

The former Soviet Air Force training aircraft is a popular plane for aerobatic flying around the world.

It has a top speed of 223mph and a service life of 30 years, according to www.yak.ru. It is not known how old the aircraft which crashed yesterday was.

Police said that immediate family of the deceased had been informed.

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