Red Arrows pilot was impaired by G-force before crash tragedy

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A Red Arrows pilot suffered an “almost loss of consciousness” due to the effects of G-force shortly before he crashed, an inquest heard.

Flight Lieutenant Jon Egging, 33, from Rutland, was killed when his Hawk T1 aircraft came down after performing at an air show near Bournemouth Airport in Dorset on August 20, 2011.

It was the first of two tragedies in three months for the air display team, with Flt Lt Sean Cunningham, 35, from Coventry, being killed after being ejected from his Hawk T1 while on the ground at RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire on November 8, 2011.

An inquest at Bournemouth Coroner’s Court heard yesterday that Flt Lt Egging suffered ALOC (almost loss of consciousness) and there was little reaction from him when another pilot shouted at him to check his height.

It is believed the pilot started to regain consciousness three seconds before the plane crashed into a field, but it was too late for him to eject or avoid hitting the ground.

The inquest was told that Flt Lt Egging was experiencing a maximum 6.3 G-force as he broke formation before he was due to come into land.

A service inquiry carried out by Military Aviation Authority found that flying 70ft higher could have made the difference between landing the aircraft and the crash.

Wing Commander Mark Rodden, president of service inquiry, said Flt Lt Egging had succumbed to G-force impairment and inadequate G-force awareness was also a possible contributory factor to the crash.

He said the inquiry had ruled out any technical or mechanical fault with the aircraft.

An eye witness described the red and white Hawk coming down into the field in a straight line before it “belly flopped, wobbled and skidded” out of sight.

Flt Lt Egging died instantly from multiple injuries, the inquest was told.

His wife, Dr Emma Egging, told the inquest that before the display there had been a “buzz” among the pilots and their families and that Bournemouth was a highlight in the display season.

Flt Lt Chris Lyndon-Smith, known as Red 2, was flying just behind Flt Lt Egging, Red 4, when the incident happened.

He told the inquest: “It became apparent to me that 179 was going down pretty quickly.

“I shouted on the radio ‘four, check height’. I then got back on the radio and said the same thing, I think I shouted it out to try to get Jon to react and get his aircraft away from the ground.

“I was looking down at his jet. At the time I didn’t think I saw any change or reaction.

“That was the frustrating thing, at the time I was trying to tell Jon to check his height and I wasn’t seeing a response from his aircraft.

“Being so low, I would have expected to see him pitch the nose up and apply some power.

“There was no response from my eyes and from what I saw and because Jon was not reacting, from what I was seeing he was not controlling the aircraft at that time.

“Whether right at the end he was, I don’t know.”

The inquest was shown a computer-generated reconstruction of the incident which happened as the pilots were breaking formation to come in to land.

Flt Lt Lyndon-Smith said the video seemed to show Red 4 lose height, rather than gain height during the peeling-off manoeuvre.

Wing Cmdr Rodden told the inquest there were a number of contributing factors that played a part in the incident.

He said that Flt Lt Egging had experienced the G-force for a long period of time at high speed, creating the “worst combination”.

He added that the inquiry had found the pilot may have been performing an “ineffective” anti G-force straining manoeuvre and that two of the zips on Flt Lt Egging G-force trousers – which help reduce the effects of the force – were slightly undone, although he could not say if this happened before or after the crash.

He told the inquest that in the last three seconds before impact Flt Lt Egging appeared to try to re-take control of the aircraft.

He said at this point the G-force would have been about 3.5 G and Flt Lt Egging would have been coming out of ALOC.

Coroner Sherrif Payne recorded a verdict of accidental death.

He said: “This was a pure matter of fate on this occasion.”