herald

Monday 5 December 2016

'Ending up in a field' - pilot's last words before fatal crash

investigation

Howard Cox
Howard Cox

"Ending up in a field" were the final words of a pilot who died when his James Bond-style mini jet crashed in a field last month after engine failure on his plane.

The pilot, remaining "composed and professional" throughout his final transmission, spoke with air traffic controllers as one of his plane's engines caught fire.

Howard Cox (67) from Devon was on his way to an air show in the west of Ireland on July 25 in his unique Bede aircraft when it crashed on farmland in Garranbaun, Co Waterford, and burst into flames.

mayday

Accident investigators revealed the final two minutes of the flight were recorded by air traffic control at Shannon Airport after the experienced and talented pilot and engineer made a Mayday call.

Mr Cox, a father of one who spent 30 years perfecting the plane's performance and jet engine, was only eight minutes into his flight from Waterford to Shannon when it suffered engine trouble.

One minute after the first report at 5.41pm, air traffic controllers recorded the pilot's Mayday: "I have engine failure. I have an engine on fire".

"Roger, are you going back to Waterford?" the radio crew in Shannon asked.

Mr Cox said: "Negative - I'm going to have to find a field."

The report into the crash states that the transmission signal from Mr Cox's plane was weak throughout, and that it was at one stage drowned out by another aircraft's "louder" transmission.

Controllers at Shannon then contacted Waterford air traffic control to make them aware of the situation, informing them that the damaged aircraft may be returning to them to land.

Controllers then ask the pilot how many people are on board the aircraft, to which he replied: "One POB (person on board). I've lost elevator authority as well as the fire".

The preliminary report by Ireland's Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) said Mr Cox's voice was composed and professional during the Mayday calls and his final communications.

His final transmission was "difficult to understand", but the last words he is heard saying were "ending up in a field".

Gerry Humphreys, director of the Foynes Air Show, to where Mr Cox was flying, was travelling behind his friend in another aircraft when the engine fire occurred.

Shortly afterwards, at 5.43pm the second aircraft pilot reported: "I can see some smoke ahead of me on the ground."

The aircraft then routed to the area where the smoke was observed and confirmed to Waterford air traffic control that Mr Cox's plane had crashed.

Mr Cox was flying a BD5 plane, the type of home-built mini jet immortalised in the opening sequences of the James Bond film Octopussy.

In the crash landing the jet's left wing clipped a tree on the boundary of a field before the entire wing broke off, and the plane then hit a hedgerow before hitting the ground. It burst into flames on impact.

Waterford ATC alerted the emergency services, as did several members of the public who witnessed the plane going down.

damage

Plumes of black smoke were reported by witnesses and black sooting was evident throughout the wreckage trail, the report found. Wreckage examination is continuing at the AAIU hangar.

"The investigation is working to identify, in so far as possible, what fire damage occurred while airborne, what fire damage occurred on the ground and the reasons for both the reported engine fire and the loss of elevator authority," the AAIU said.

Mr Cox had been in Ireland for several days before his death, preparing to display his unusual plane at the air show over the Shannon Estuary.

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