A “devastating” plane crash at the Shoreham Airshow which killed 11 men was caused by the pilot’s “serious negligence”, a court has heard.
Jurors were told Andy Hill’s Hawker Hunter jet “disintegrated” upon impact, creating a “massive fireball” when it hit the ground in August 2015.
The vintage aircraft was in “excellent working order”, the Old Bailey heard, and “pilot error” was purely to blame.
Mr Hill, 54, denies 11 counts of manslaughter by gross negligence.
Tom Kark QC, prosecuting, told jurors the defendant was an experienced pilot but had been known to take risks, and a previous airshow display had been halted due to his “dangerous” flying.
Mr Hill, a British Airways captain at the time, had been performing a manoeuvre at Shoreham known as a bent loop before his jet crashed into the A27 in West Sussex, the court heard.
Holding up a scale model of the Hawker Hunter, Mr Kark told jurors it had ascended to about 2,800ft (850m) when Mr Hill attempted the stunt.
The jet was “too low, probably by as much as a 1,000ft below the height required” at the top of the loop, the court heard.
“Mr Hill should not have started his descent”, Mr Kark said, but “nevertheless continued the manoeuvre”.
The jury was shown footage of the jet disappearing behind a row of trees, before it “disintegrated and…caused a massive fireball”.
Spectator David Miles, who was standing on the “busy” road, “watched as the aircraft descended down onto the road and exploded,” the court heard.
“He heard a bang and started running as fast as he could away from the crash, aware of course that wreckage would be coming his way,” Mr Kark said.
“He felt an enormous heat and fell to the floor. People that he had been standing next to had simply disappeared and the motorbikes he had noticed earlier were now just burning wreckage.”
Ten of the victims died instantaneously, the court heard, while the death of eleventh victim Maurice Abrahams would have been “rapid” once his car was engulfed in flames.
Two other vehicles were “completely destroyed” along with their occupants, Mr Kark said.
The jury was told Mr Hill “miraculously escaped” when the aircraft broke up and he was thrown into a ditch.
At the scene, he was able to give his name as “Andy” but was otherwise “incoherent”, Mr Kark said.
He suffered head injuries and rib fractures and has made a full recovery, the court heard.
Mr Hill has been repeatedly interviewed by police since the crash, making no comment each time, Mr Kark said.
On 1 June 2017, he provided officers with a 10-page statement which said he had no recollection of the crash and believed G-Force pressures may have contributed, Mr Kark said.
However, the prosecution said Mr Hill would have experienced “nothing unusual” for an experienced pilot, and witness testimony would discount the possibility of G-Force being a factor in the crash.
“In other words he did not lose consciousness in that aircraft”, Mr Kark said.
Mr Hill, from Sandon, Hertfordshire, had served in the RAF between 1985 and 1994 before becoming a commercial pilot, the court heard.
The trial would hear from witnesses likely to describe him as “highly competent and experienced,” Mr Kark said.
However, “there have also been times when he has taken risks or flown in a way one would not expect a careful and competent fast jet display pilot to do”, he told the court.
During a practice display at Duxford in Cambridgeshire in 2014 Mr Hill had flown over the M11 at about 200ft, well below the 500ft minimum, Mr Kark said.
“Mr Hill, in short, was playing fast and loose with the rules which are designed to keep people safe from aircraft performing aerobatic manoeuvres.”
Mr Kark said such incidents had demonstrated a “more cavalier attitude to safety than was appropriate”.
The prosecutor said a display by Mr Hill at the 2014 Southport Air Show was halted when he “performed a dangerous manoeuvre” which “took him far too close to the crowd”.
Mr Kark said the event’s flight director took the “rare” step after a “stop, stop, stop” call was issued.
“It ought to have been a red light warning to him to plan his displays with great care.”
“Unfortunately, on this occasion in 2015 at Shoreham, no-one had time to call out a ‘stop’ and his display ended in tragedy.
“The prosecution case is that it was Mr Hill’s serious negligence that led directly to the loss of those eleven lives,” he added.
Of the 11 men who died, five were in vehicles and six were spectators.
The trial is expected to last up to seven weeks.
The men who died
- Matt Jones, a 24-year-old personal trainer
- Matthew Grimstone, 23, a Worthing United footballer who worked as a groundsman at Brighton & Hove Albion
- Jacob Schilt, also 23 and also a Worthing United player, was travelling to a match with Mr Grimstone
- Maurice Abrahams, 76, from Brighton, was a chauffeur on his way to pick up a bride on her wedding day
- Friends Richard Smith, 26, and Dylan Archer, 42, who were going for a bike ride on the South Downs
- Mark Reeves, 53, had ridden his motorcycle to the perimeter of Shoreham Airport to take photos of the planes
- Tony Brightwell, 53, from Hove was an aircraft enthusiast and had learnt to fly at Shoreham airfield
- Mark Trussler, 54, had gone to watch the display on his Suzuki motorbike and was standing next to the road
- Daniele Polito, 23 was travelling in the same car as Mr Jones
- James “Graham” Mallinson, 72, from Newick, was a photographer and retired engineer