Locals recall plane crash horror

A COUPLE told yesterday how a plane crashed to the ground only yards away from the spot where they had been playing on a rug with their eight-month-old baby.

By David Green

A COUPLE told yesterday how a plane crashed to the ground only yards away from the spot where they had been playing on a rug with their eight-month-old baby.

Mark Robinson, 33, and his partner, Katie Childs, 38, said they had only been indoors for about 30 minutes when they heard the engine of an aircraft stop, followed some seconds later by a loud bang.

Mr Robinson dashed outside, saw the plane had crashed the other side of their garden fence, at Hoxne, near Eye, and quickly went indoors to dial 999 and grab a domestic fire extinguisher.

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However, by the time he got back to the plane it was engulfed in flames.

The pilot, Steve Cowham, 40, died in Sunday's crash which was witnessed by his wife, Joanne, and children, Shannon and Callum .

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Accident investigators yesterday continued their examination of the crash scene.

Mr Robinson said the dust was still in the air when he reached the aircraft, an aerobatics trainer, and he could see that the pilot was dead.

“Only a short time before we had been sitting a few yards away with our baby, Meg,” he added.

His next-door neighbour, Gillian Hill, 46, said her son, Rory, 14, had been in the garden with a friend, Calum Duncan, 15.

“Suddenly they jumped up off the grass and I thought one of them had been stung. I realised what was happening when they pointed to the aircraft overhead and shouted.

“One of them ran to the garage and the other dashed into the house. I went out and saw the aircraft over our heads spiralling towards the ground.

“It then just crashed and exploded in the field the other side of our fence. There was nothing we could do.

“It was like something out of a film. One minute we were relaxing in the sunshine, and then the next thing this happens. My thoughts are with the family of the poor man who died.”

John Ding , 64, who was photographing swifts in his garden at nearby Syleham, took dramatic pictures of the aircraft before the crash.

He said: “We get a lot of aircraft flying over here and I enjoy taking pictures of them. This chap was doing a series of rolls and turns at 2,000 to 3,000 feet. It was just normal aerobatics.

“Then after about five minutes he suddenly went into a low flat spin. The aircraft looked just like a falling leaf, spinning round and round.”

Mr Cowham had been providing a “surprise” air display to mark the retirement of family friend, Alan Smith, 59, a partner with Gaze & Son, the Diss-based auctioneering and estate agency firm, who lives in Low Street, Hoxne.

Mr Smith, who was enjoying a garden party with colleagues and friends, including Mr Cowham's wife and children and his parents, John and Pauline Cowham, said he had only been told about the display about ten minutes before it was due to start.

He added: “It was just after he had completed a loop that he went into free fall. Everyone prayed that he would somehow pull out of it but then we heard a crash - it was thankfully just out of sight behind some trees - and then a pall of smoke came up.

“People sprinted across the field to the scene but there was nothing anyone could do.”

Mr Smith said he and his wife, Carole , had known the Cowham family since the 1970s when they had become neighbours.

“Steve was a wonderful man - always up the front and living life to the full. He had heard wind of my retirement and wanted to give me a surprise.

“He would never take risks. He was a very accomplished pilot, a very sensible flyer,” he said.

Mr Smith said Mr Cowham's death - only a few weeks after 200 people had celebrated his 40th birthday with a party in the village hall - would be a huge loss to the community.

“All his family are grief-stricken and we are trying to support them as best we can. It is a very strong family - we only hope and pray it will get easier for them to bear as time goes by,” he added.

Tony Cable, a senior engineering inspector for the Air Accidents Investigation Branch, said: “We are attempting to establish the cause of the accident with a view to preventing a recurrence, not apportioning blame.

“I fear that the amount of evidence recovered will be somewhat limited due to the extensive fire damage.

“But we will analyse the wreckage and an operations inspector will look at things like the pilot's record, air traffic, radio and radar recordings. We will produce a report for publication in due course.”

Members of the family were still too distraught yesterday to talk about the tragedy.

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