It was Friday, August 18, 2000, when a jet plane crashed into the sea in front of thousands of spectators, killing the pilot.

The L-29 Delfin was halfway through a daring acrobatic display when it failed to pull up from a manoeuvre and plunged beneath the waves at Eastbourne.

The pilot was former Red Arrows pilot Ted Girdler, 62, who had performed aerobatics for more than 30 years.

Mr Girdler was unable to eject before the plane plummeted into the water, sending up a cloud of smoke and debris.

A shocked crowd of more than 40,000 spectators, including one of his own sons, looked on in stunned silence as the aircraft disappeared from view.

Emergency services rushed to the scene, including a lifeboat and police helicopter as the frantic search for the pilot ensued.

Airbourne organisers debated cancelling the remaining two days of the show, but with permission from Mr Girdler’s family, the event continued.

The task of recovering the debris of the L-29 Delfin in which he died began in earnest the following Monday, with a five-strong team of police underwater search specialists combing the seabed.

A large section of the fuselage, cockpit instruments and ejector seat were all recovered, along with the crucial find of the aircraft’s engine, but three weeks after the accident, the search was called off.

Soon after the crash, tributes began streaming in for the pilot from those who knew him best.

Wing Commander Peter Kennedy, a close friend and colleague from London Manston Airport where Mr Girdler ran a flying school, said those who knew him were “stunned” by the tragedy.

The Argus:

He said: “He had a very charismatic personality.

You never like to speak ill of the dead, but with Ted I have no difficulties in saying there’s nothing bad to say. He was a decent and clean-living man. He lived life to the full.

“Knowing Ted, he would have made certain decisions in a split second, such as where are people, where's the crowd.

“He would have wanted to make sure the plane landed away from everyone.”

More than 700 people paid their respects to Mr Girdler when he was laid to rest on August 30.




10BC: Roman Emperor Claudius I was born in Lyons.

1714: Queen Anne, the last Stuart sovereign, died aged 49, to be succeeded by George I under the Act of Settlement of 1701.

1778: The first savings bank opened, in Hamburg.

1831: New London Bridge was opened by King William IV. It was sold to an American in 1968 and rebuilt in Arizona.

1834: Slavery was abolished in all British dominions.

1903: Martha Jane Cannary, better known as Calamity Jane, died near Deadwood, Dakota. Her final request was to be buried next to Wild Bill Hickok.

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