A former RAF pilot may have been “dazzled and disorientated” by the sun before stepping into a turning propeller, an inquest heard.

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Alistair Mathie, who was known as Al, died at the private Priory Farm airstrip, off Pristow Green Lane, near Tibenham, on January 28 last year.

The 67-year-old, from Burgate, near Diss, had been flying with another pilot and had stepped out of the aircraft when they landed, to allow him to fly solo.

But he stepped into the plane’s turning propeller and died instantly.

His widow, Dorothy, told yesterday’s Norwich inquest that she did not believe her husband – who had decades of experience as a pilot and was in good health – would have stepped into the propeller by mistake.

In a statement read by Norfolk coroner William Armstrong, she said: “The sun was very bright and low that day, and it would have been full in his face. The most likely explanation, I believe, is that he was dazzled and disorientated by the sun. He stumbled on the wheel and stepped into the propeller while trying to get his balance.”

Air Accident investigator Nicholas Dann told the inquest that it was impossible to confirm the exact cause of the incident, and why Mr Mathie had walked into the propeller, which had struck his head.

He said their report was based on the two witnesses to the incident, both of whom spoke at the inquest.

Robert Weller, the pilot being coached by Mr Mathie, said the Light Aircraft Association coach was one of the most experienced pilots he knew.

He said he saw Mr Mathie climb out of the aircraft and they then had a brief conversation. He added: “He turned towards the front of the aircraft. The next thing I knew the engine had stopped. I really had no idea what had happened.”

Another pilot, Michael Nice, said he was about 100 yards away from the scene.

He said: “The aerop lane was stationary. I noticed the door/window open and Al getting out. I waited to watch Rob Weller’s first circuit.

“When Al got out of the aircraft he turned and walked away. He walked towards the front of the aircraft and he made contact with the propeller.”

The aircraft’s engine had been left on when Mr Mathie climbed out, as Mr Weller was about to take off on his solo flight, the inquest heard.

Mr Dann said there was some debate when an aircraft was stationary but about to set off again, whether the safest option was to leave the engine on, as Mr Mathie did, or to turn it off, which would then entail someone having to hand-start the propellers to start it up again.

He said of the 15 previous air accidents, 10 had been caused when the propellers were being hand-started, and five when the engine had been left on.

A post mortem examination said the cause of death was severe head injuries as a result of being hit by an aeroplane propeller. Mr Armstrong recorded a verdict of accidental death. Mr Mathie was born in India and had been an RAF pilot for about 30 years, before he retired at 60, and became a civilian pilot.

david.bale2@archant.co.uk

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