‘Accidental death’ verdict for air crash passenger

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An English coroner has recorded a verdict of accidental death for the passenger in the light aircraft which crashed into the sea off Skipness on May 25, 2017.

During the inquest, held at Walthamstow Coroner’s Court, East London, area coroner Graeme Irving heard that the pilot, Tony Woodward, 62, had deviated slightly from his flight plan; the plane crashed into sea in low visibility. The coroner had reference to the Air Accidents Investigation Branch report into the crash.

Mr Woodford and his passenger, Robert Archer, 57, of Romford, Essex, had flown from Carlisle Lake District Airport to Oban days before and had climbed Ben Nevis with another friend to raise money for a children’s charity before heading home.

The coroner said: ‘The route would have shortened the journey by around 10 minutes.’

This avoided having to climb over hills, but the coroner added: ‘However the route would have taken him towards an area of low visibility.

‘The surface of the water would have been relatively calm and would have been difficult for the pilot to check height.’

The men had planned to return to Carlisle the day before but the weather conditions were not suitable.

Coastguards and lifeboats were called out to search for the aircraft after air traffic controllers raised the alarm when communication with the chartered Piper PA-28R-201 Cherokee Arrow III aircraft stopped. Floating wreckage and the men’s bodies were recovered from the sea.

Radar captured the aircraft’s ‘rapid descent’ moments before the crash which killed both men on impact, post mortem examinations revealed.

Coroner Mr Irving said evidence pointed to the presence of low stratus clouds or fog south of Lochgilphead meaning the aircraft was being flown in IMC, Instrument Meteorological Conditions (instrument only) circumstances.

As a pilot, Mr Woodford had undergone 12.5 hours of instrument flying training but the coroner was told that he was not qualified and had not completed the required training to fly unsupervised in IMC conditions.

The conclusion of the Air Accident Investigation Board report into the fight  was: ‘Poor visibility had been forecast south of Lochgilphead and as the aircraft flew down Loch Fyne, the visibility would have reduced to below that permitted for VFR (Visual Flight Rules) flight. The pilot was not qualified to fly in IMC and it is concluded that the accident probably occurred as a result of the aircraft being flown, in poor visibility, into the sea.’