British airshow crash toll could hit 20

  • 25/08/2015
(Reuters)
(Reuters)

The final death toll from a jet crash at a British airshow could rise to 20, police say as an operation began to recover the plane wreckage.

Eleven people are so far thought to have been killed in the crash on Saturday, when a vintage Hawker Hunter military jet failed to pull up in time after a loop manoeuvre and ploughed through cars on a busy road.

The crash at the Shoreham Airshow on the southeast English coast created two fireballs that sent thick, black smoke billowing into the sky.

The pilot, experienced aerobatic stunt flyer Andy Hill, remains in a critical condition in hospital.

The Civil Aviation Authority on Monday (local time) announced that displays by vintage jets will be "significantly restricted until further notice" as a result of the tragedy.

Sussex Police assistant chief constable Steve Barry said the death toll could increase. Seven fatalities have been confirmed so far.

"The number of highly likely dead remains at 11, but may rise. However, we do not expect that figure to be greater than 20, probably fewer," he said.

A crane has moved in to lift the debris from the plane wreckage.

"What that will uncover in terms of further recovery work is unknown and it's possible that once the aircraft is moved that we will discover more fatalities," said Barry.

"The plane needs to be made safe. There are issues around fuel in the aircraft still and there is an issue around making sure the ejector seat is still safe," he added.

Local coroner Penny Schofield said identifying the victims would be a "slow and painstaking operation" that could take several weeks.

"The fire was so intense and the scale of the damage so vast, it means that we must very carefully remove the remains in a way that will lead to a formal identification," she added.

Hawker Hunter planes were a mainstay of Britain's Royal Air Force in the 1950s and early 1960s.

The jet appeared to wobble slightly and lose height at the bottom of its loop before ploughing across a major road that runs along England's southeast coast.

Hill's family said they were "devastated and deeply saddened" by the loss of life.

Friend and fellow pilot Neil McCarthy said that in Britain, Hill was one of only around six who flies a Hawker Hunter, of which around five remain airworthy.

He described him as an "exceptional pilot".

"What Andy did is exactly what I would expect to see... it looked exactly the way it should be done," he told BBC television.

"But so many things can go wrong: there can be bird strikes, engine failure, an engine fire, there could be all sorts."

AFP