TRAGIC END TO FLIGHT FROM COUNTY AIRFIELD
TWO North East men killed in a plane crash in the French Alps were checking up on a pilot who had made an emergency landing moments before, an inquest heard.
Pilot Andrew Buck, 37, from Seaham, County Durham, died in a French Alps plane crash along with 18-year-old Lewis Stubbs, who went to school in Gateshead.
The pair were part of a group of four planes that had set off from Eshott Airfield in Northumberland on a private expedition to Malta on July 24, 2019.
However, the two-seater plane carrying Andrew and Lewis crashed into trees during the journey and both men died.
During an inquest into their deaths, Sam Woodgate, who was part of the team, said Andrew may have “panicked” when pilot Alexander Szymanski had to make an emergency landing.
Mr Buck had led the party throughout their journey when the planes had to circle for around 10 minutes to reach the correct altitude in Larche, France.
But the party took a wrong turn up the valley over the Maddalena Pass with a pilot observing the convoy from above realising the error and radioing his fellow pilots that they had gone the wrong way.
But for Mr Szymanski, it was too late and he had to perform a forced landing as he did not have the required speed or space to perform a 180-degree turn.
The French Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety said Mr Buck had wanted to turn around to check on Mr Szymanski, who it turned out was unharmed.
The convoy entered the valley going east when they should have continued their navigation to the southeast, although it’s possible Mr Buck was disorientated from circling to gain altitude, the bureau said.
Mr Woodgate said he believed Mr Buck had turned to see what had happened to the pilot in a “panic”.
He told the inquest: “I believe he performed a really abrupt turn in a panic at the situation to return back to where Alex’s crash site was to see what was happening, a turn that was too slow and too aggressive which has led to his death.
“Andrew will have understood the dangers but under extreme stress, we all like to think of how we were going to respond, but on that day he made a mistake.”
He explained how he had to make the challenging turn.
Mr Woodgate said: “My heart was thumping out of my chest. I had to be close to the terrain because I needed the speed. I didn’t want to keep going towards it but I knew I needed to keep my speed up.
“Alex did not have that bit of height, he was at the bottom of the bowl, he had less room and he made the right decision to get the plane down.
“I had no reason to believe we were going the wrong way. It was not as clear as left or right.”
Another pilot who was on the trip, Richard Pike, said he “knew something wasn’t right” as they went into the valley.
He explained: “I was the first to actually speak and radioed to say ‘Are you sure about this?’ I could see this hump ahead and I said something like: ‘Are we supposed to go over that?’
“I was very unhappy at that point, I knew something was not right and afterwards that is when the pilot said we need to turn around.
“I saw Alex impact the ground. Everyone was talking on the radio asking what had happened. I thought Alex was probably fine from what I had seen.
“Although it was awful I was not actually completely overwhelmed at that point.
“I saw Alex had flipped and it became a lot more serious. It’s a miracle he was OK.
“What was quite a safe situation very quickly became unsafe, this took place in such a short space of time. It’s very easy to sit and say why didn’t you do that, why didn’t you think of that, but it happened so fast.”
Describing Mr Buck’s crash, Mr Pike said the plane did three full spins before it nosedived and disappeared into the trees below.
He said: “He did a left turn and immediately entered a spin, it was a very extreme turn and it went straight into a spin. It did three full rotations and on the fourth rotation started to nosedive.
“The aircraft went straight into the trees, there was no fire, no smoke, it literally just disappeared, I couldn’t see it at all.”
Authorities in France said Mr Buck took the turn “at too low a speed and too steep an angle” which caused the plane to stall and drop into the trees below.
Although Mr Buck had the least flying hours, his fellow pilots said they held his flying “in high regard” and had no reason to doubt his navigation skills with the journey being uneventful up until that point.
Sunderland assistant coroner Andrew Tweddle said: “Nobody at all would go into a wrong turn and go into the wrong place deliberately. This is a tragedy.”
Mr Tweddle ruled both deaths as accidents and passed his condolences on to their families.
I believe he performed a really abrupt turn in a panic at the situation to return back to where Alex’s crash site was to see what was happening Sam Woodgate