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Instructor relives fatal Shoreham crash
A flying instructor has described the terrifying moment his light aircraft hit another plane mid-air over Shoreham, sending it into a "rapid spiral descent" and killing a retired British Airways pilot.
Robert Rickwood said he saw the two-seater, home-built plane piloted by 62-year-old Alan Weal plummet to the ground after their aircraft collided.
Mr Rickwood told an inquest that he looked at his flying instructor student and said "what the heck was that?" moments after the mid-air crash on a clear day on July 4 last year.
He said he and his student, experienced pilot Barnaby Kerr, managed to bring the aircraft under control following the impact and land it safely on a grass runway at Shoreham Airport near Brighton.
But the mid-air impact sent the plane piloted by Mr Weal crashing into a recreation ground, causing him fatal head and chest injuries, the inquest at Horsham said.
Mr Rickwood, an experienced pilot who started flying in the mid-70s and who became an instructor in 1978, said the collision happened as he and Mr Kerr were returning to Shoreham following a lesson.
He said: "As we were coming into the cross-wind we did a segmented scan, particularly to the right. The day was one of incredibly good visibility and you could see for 30 miles.
"It should have been very easy. Neither of us saw anything that caused concern. And just as we were going to turn there was a bang. The aeroplane was sent up on its left wing and we didn't know what had happened."
Describing how he saw Mr Weal's plane momentarily, he added: "There looked like a shadow for a fraction of a second, immediately followed by a horrendous bang that has given me nightmares for many months."
Mr Weal, who retired from BA aged 55, still flew regularly and had been in "high spirits" in the days before he died.
Mr Rickwood, who had built up 3,500 hours of flying experience in a variety of aircrafts, spoke of the personal toll the crash had taken on him.
He told the jury: "I had nightmares for weeks. It took me nearly four weeks before I could get back in an aeroplane.
"I gave a few lessons but by November I lost the appetite for something that I thoroughly enjoyed. I don't think I will fly again."
He added that Shoreham Airport is covered by a two-mile controlled zone within which air traffic control dictates what pilots can and cannot do.
Speaking about the sequence of events which led up to the crash, Mr Rickwood said: "It was mid-afternoon, about 3.30pm. The lessons are normally an hour to an hour-and-a-half.
"I was sitting on the left-hand side where the pilot normally sits and Barnaby was on the right-hand side.
"We took off and at about 500ft we made a left turn to Brighton to get the student into the feel of flying on instruments.
"We turned around just before Brighton and came back towards the airfield and joined what is known as a holding pattern.
"We did a couple of times around the hold and made an approach towards the runway.
"We descended to the minimum safe altitude and then climbed back up again and off to the west to carry out the main training exercise. The body of the lesson was completed and we headed back to the airport.
"We called the tower and requested to rejoin. We then requested a cross-wind rejoin."
Radio traffic was busy and as they made their approach, they scanned hard for other aircrafts before the crash occurred.
Mr Rickwood praised the actions of Mr Kerr in helping land their aircraft safely.
He said: "The damage to the left wing meant that if we went too slowly we could stall and drop into a spin. He did everything by the book and he did everything very well."
Penelope Weal, the widow of Mr Weal, who lived in Goring, near Worthing, said he was a "conscientious and fastidious" pilot who was flying the aircraft as a favour for a friend.
In a statement read at the hearing, Mrs Weal said he sold his own plane and had a part-share in one. He had to undergo annual health checks and was described as "fit and healthy".
Mrs Weal, who married him in Hove, East Sussex, in 1970, described him as a loving and supportive father and grandfather whose death had affected everyone who knew him.
A post-mortem examination confirmed Mr Weal died from head and chest injuries.
The inquest heard that a lesion was found on the front lobe of his brain but West Sussex coroner Penelope Schofield said it had no bearing on his death.
Andrew Blackie, operations inspector of the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB), said there is no radar at Shoreham, with the air traffic controller keeping watch from a tower to assist pilots.