Respected and experienced pilot may not have noticed plane propeller which killed him at Norfolk airfield

PUBLISHED: 17:34 22 October 2012 | UPDATED: 18:10 22 October 2012

A Piper Cub, similar to the one involved in the Tibenham incident

A Piper Cub, similar to the one involved in the Tibenham incident

A respected and experienced flying instructor may not have been aware of a plane’s rotating propeller which hit him, killing him instantly, a report from the Air Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB) has found.

Alistair Mathie, 67, of Brook Farm, Burgate died when he stepped into the path of the rotating propeller of a Piper J3C-65 Cub at Priory Farm airfield, Tibenham on January 28, shortly after returning from a coaching session for a trainee pilot.

However, the AAIB report stated the former RAF pilot was wearing his headset at the time of the accident, which would have reduced his ability to hear the engine, while the wind produced by the working engine when the aircraft was stood still was not particularly strong.

Mr Mathie may not have seen the propeller because although the tips of the blades had different colours, these hues may not have been obviously visible to him.

A post-mortem report also indicated Mr Mathie the injuries sustained were consistent with him having had his head down at the time of the accident, when he was struck once on the head. He had no medical conditions which could have contributed to the accident.

No specific safety improvements were recommended in the report although the Light Aircraft Association (LAA), which qualified Mr Mathie as a coach, is set to broaden its training as a result of the incident to include the dangers posed by propellers when boarding or leaving the aircraft.

The report also stated the accident illustrated the value of a procedure used by some pilots of following a path along the edge of the wing when approaching or leaving the aircraft to ensure safe clearance from the rotating propeller.

The possibility of turning off the engine in between flights was also considered. However, the Piper Cub’s engine has to be started by hand, which can be equally as hazardous as leaving the engine running, especially if hot after recent use.

Figures showed that since 1991 there had been 15 accidents involving light aircraft, 10 of which occurred while trying to start the engine by hand swinging the propwller and five when passengers or ground personnel were hit by rotating propellers.

Tributes to the popular coach, who had clocked up 14,709 flying hours during his career poured in to internet chat forums in the aftermath of his death.

One forum poster, named Wildcat One, said he served with Mr Mathie in the RAF during the 1980s and had a photo of him with other friends taken in Salalah in Oman in 1967.

He said: “I’ve learnt a lot from him, saw him as a mentor, never a peer and thoroughly enjoyed his company and his willingness to help. Al would never accept a penny and it was always a challenge to remunerate him in kind. He did like steak and sausages. We really have lost a true gent and I will miss him.”

Another pilot, Anglian Av8r, added: “A shocking incident and a terribly sad loss of a real gentleman. I saw Al on Friday and he fed me his wisdom by the bucket full prior to my embarking on a permit test flight. Al epitomised all that is good in the light aviation community and will be sorely missed. RIP.”

Mr Mathie, who lived with his pilot wife Dorothy, was born in India before moving to the UK to pursue a career in the RAF where he flew Jaguar jets. He later went on to become an airline pilot for Thomas Cook before becoming an LAA instructor.

On the day of the accident, he had already flown a number of coaching sessions.

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