Moving tributes have been paid to a Hawker Hurricane pilot killed when his historic fighter aircraft nose-dived into a field at Shoreham Airshow.

Brian Brown, an experienced airman from Yorkshire, was killed instantly when the plane, which was taking part in a Battle of Britain dogfight display, crashed at 3.20pm on Saturday.

Earlier today, a wreath was laid at Shoreham Airport as thousands of spectators joined with pilots for two-minutes of silence before Mr Brown's fellow flyers re-enacted the same dramatic display that preceded his death.

Although flying was suspended for 30 minutes after the crash, organisers believed most people in the 20,000-strong crowd wanted the show to continue.

Five Spitfires, two Hurricanes and two Messerschmitts were taking part in the mock German attack on a Second World War airfield defended by the RAF when Mr Brown's plane went down.

Many people initially thought the black plume of smoke rising from north of the A27 was part of the display until commentator Peter Eager, his voice choking with emotion, announced the tragedy over the tannoy.

Onlookers fought back tears as Mr Brown's colleagues flew over the airport in the poignant "pilot missing" formation.

Spitfire pilot David Ratcliffe was part of the team which took part in the dogfight prior to the crash. He said: "Brian was a good pilot, a great friend and he will be dearly missed.

"Like any job you have to be pragmatic about these things. It does happen from time to time but then statistically the biggest danger to me is driving to the airfield.

"It is all very dramatic in front of a crowd but a crash can happen anywhere. It will not put us off flying, that is what we do.

"I fly on my days off. I fly in the wind and rain - it doesn't matter."

As Mr Ratcliffe climbed from his aircraft after the crash, a spectator ran up and handed him a £20 note, saying: "I know you guys always have a drink when you lose someone so this one is on me."

Don Bean, organiser of the show, which over the years has raised more than £1 million for the Royal Air Forces Association, said: "It is a devastating thing to happen but the show must go on."

While air accident investigators sifted through the burnt out wreckage of the Hurricane, which came down on farmland near Lancing College, witnesses spoke of their horror as the plane plunged into the ground.

Gary Mann 40, of Rife Way, Ferring, near Worthing, said the Hurricane "dropped like a stone" just a few hundred feet from where he was standing.

He was watching the dogfight with his girlfriend, Hayley Stevens, 24, and one-year-old daughter Jasmine Mann, when the fighter crashed.

Mr Mann said: "We were standing in a field with around 60 other people when the plane in question came over the college and just dropped like a stone.

"It just nose-dived straight down behind a hedge.

"A bloke behind me with a radio stood up and said 'Oh my God, it's crashed'and people just looked at each other in shock.

"The poor bloke never stood a chance. There is no way he could have bailed out. He was too low.

"Strangely, moments before the crash it was deadly quiet. I didn't see the propeller spinning."

With conditions perfect for flying, experts will be examining witness accounts pointing the finger at engine problems moments before the crash.

John Vinicombe, 78, of Lyndhurst Road, Hove, was on Mill Hill, a vantage point overlooking the Adur Valley and airport.

He said: "Shortly before it went down, I heard the engine stutter."

Mr Vinicombe said 400-500 other people on the hill seemed unaware of the unfolding tragedy.

He believed that despite the accident the show had to go on.

Police chief Inspector Lawrence Hobbs offered his condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of the victim.

He said: "The show has been run successfully for many years and its contingency plans are subject to close scrutiny by the Civil Aviation Authority.

"The decision to continue the airshow was fully supported by police and we are urging anybody with video footage of the crash to hand in the images to their nearest police station."

The Argus website was inundated with messages of sympathy.

Diane Lewsey, of Fairfield Gardens, Portslade, who was standing near the River Adur, said: "We were watching the Battle of Britain display and commented that we had never seen so many planes in the air at once. They seemed to be all around us.

"I looked towards Lancing College and the surrounding countryside and I saw the Hurricane nose-dive into the ground.

"Then we saw a sickening plume of black smoke and knew this was not part of the display and that someone had lost their life.

"The plane had literally gone straight down.

"There was no struggling or movement, almost as though the pilot did not have time to correct the plane.

"Strangely we heard no noise when the plane hit and there was a delay before the smoke appeared.

"The whole atmosphere changed on the river bank and everyone was stunned."

Victor Wheele, 70, a retired helicopter and aircraft pilot, of Mill Hill, Shoreham, said: "I saw the accident from my home. I looked north towards Lancing College and about a quarter of a mile to the left going west I saw a plane at very low altitude.

"It disappeared and then a few seconds later a great cloud of black smoke emerged. It's very tragic. The show stopped momentarily, but I think they thought in the best interests of the public they should continue.

"I think it was good they continued in his memory and for the charity. If it had been for private gain they could have cancelled it. I'm sure the man that died would have wanted the show to go on.

"The amount of air crashes are not that great. It's more dangerous to drive on the road than it is to fly. Obviously, should something go wrong you can have a fatal accident."

Wayne Harrison, 37, a carer from Shelby Road, West Durrington, Worthing, said: "We thought they might cancel the show on Sunday. I wouldn't have stopped it. If you're a pilot you know that danger is all part of it."

Accountant Adam Staniforth, 25, of Worthing, said: "It's a big worry that it crashed close to the flyover. It could have affected a lot more people."

Jacqui Attree, of Beach Green, Shoreham, said: "The organisers were saying he would have wanted them to carry on. But I felt a bit odd watching planes carrying on knowing somebody had died."

James Wastell, 33, Arundel Terrace, Brighton, said: "It is a tough decision whether to continue or not, but it is not surprising that they have soldiered on. It was very brave of them."

Squadron Leader Greg Garrod-Bell, of Sussex Air Cadets said: "Keeping the show going was the right thing."

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