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Man killed in plane crash was on birthday flight experience paid for by children, inquest hears

PUBLISHED: 10:15 01 May 2018 | UPDATED: 14:20 01 May 2018

East Anglian air ambulnace attends the scene of the crash in the village of Topcroft in Norfolk in 2016 (Picture: Rob Colman/Archant)

East Anglian air ambulnace attends the scene of the crash in the village of Topcroft in Norfolk in 2016 (Picture: Rob Colman/Archant)

© Rob Colman 2016. No Syndication.

An 84-year-old man killed when a vintage fighter plane crashed near Bungay had been on a birthday flight experience paid for by his sons, an inquest heard.

The Mustang'’s pilot and owner, Maurice Hammond, suffered a broken neck, ribs and shoulder, but survived. Photo: Nik ColemanThe Mustang'’s pilot and owner, Maurice Hammond, suffered a broken neck, ribs and shoulder, but survived. Photo: Nik Coleman

Retired farmer Benjamin John Marshall died when the P-51 D Mustang he was flying in crashed in a field next to Hardwick Airfield on October 2, 2016.

The incident was witnessed by his three sons who described seeing a “fireball” as the US-made aircraft struck an oak tree.

An inquest in Norwich yesterday (Monday) heard how the plane’s owner and pilot, Maurice Hammond, survived the crash, but suffered a broken neck, shoulder and ribs.

Video footage of the two-seater aircraft’s final approach to the airstrip in Topcroft - shot by Mr Marshall’s son - was played to the inquest jury.

Road closures at the scene of the plane crash near Topcroft at the weekend.Road closures at the scene of the plane crash near Topcroft at the weekend.

It showed the Mustang, nicknamed Janie, bouncing back into the air after touching down on the ground and into the direction of the cameraman.

A voice in the video can then be heard saying: “That is going to crash”.

The inquest heard how there was a crosswind which affected the aircraft’s positioning.

Mr Marshall’s son, Robert, who filmed the landing, said the flight had been booked for his dad’s 85th birthday, which was later in October.

He said his father, of Willoughby Waterleys, Leicestershire, had an interest in military aircraft.

“It [the plane] took off as normal and he was probably gone for the best part of 50 minutes,” Mr Marshall said.

“As it came to land, it touched down and I immediately thought ‘that was hard’.

“My next recollection was Chris saying ‘run it’s going to hit us’.

“It was coming straight at us.”

Mr Marshall said they ran across to their other brother and turned to see the plane attempt to gain altitude.

As the plane struck a tree, tearing off its left wing, he said he saw a “fireball” and “smoke”.

“My immediate thought was that I have to get dad out”, Mr Marshall said.

He was joined by a handful of other people who ran over to the crash site to try and help. Emergency services were called by a cyclist nearby.

Norfolk area coroner Yvonne Blake gave Mr Marshall’s preliminary medical cause of death as severe traumatic head and neck injuries.

Nicholas Dann, from the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB), said there were a number of factors which made the aircraft “very difficult” to control.

An AAIB report said there was no evidence of any aircraft system failure.

Mr Dann told the inquest jury the plane was blown to the left by a cross wind, and at the time of landing it was slightly off the airstrip’s centre line.

He said sound from the video recording suggested Mr Hammond attempted to abort the landing after the Mustang bounced twice on the ground.

“It was not able to get enough height in enough time to avoid hitting the tree,” he said.

“If the tree had not been there,” he added. “I am sure the aircraft would have got airborne.”

Cheryl Griffiths said the aircraft wreckage ended up just 50ft in front of her.

Giving evidence, she said she was walking her dogs near the airfield when she heard the Mustang’s engine “really roar”.

She said: “I thought ‘wow, I am in the right place to see the whole take off’.

“The engine was roaring but I was surprised it was not climbing.

“It started to turn so it was coming straight towards me and I was still thinking ‘this is fantastic’ and ‘it’s going to come straight over my head’.

She said the Mustang was flying directly at her and was around 10 to 15ft off the ground.

“Just as it got to the tree, the left wing dipped really violently,” Miss Griffiths said.

“If you were to look at a clock face I would say the wings were pointing at 10 to 4pm or five to 5pm.”

She said after the plane hit a tree in front of her there was a “huge fireball”.

“Because the left wing had hit the heaviest part of the tree it spun the plane and it carried on bouncing in my direction.”

In a written statement, the pilot, Mr Hammond, said he had no memory of what happened on the day.

He said he spent five weeks and two days in hospital with a broken neck, ribs and shoulder, as well as burns.

His daughter, Leah Young, said her dad was “meticulous” with his checks on the aircraft.

The inquest is due to resume on Tuesday.

Experienced pilot

The aircraft’s pilot, Maurice Hammond, said he was “probably” the second-highest houred Mustang pilot in the country.

In a written statement, read out to the inquest jury, he said he restored the plane after purchasing it in 1997.

He flew it for the first time in July 2001.

Mr Hammond said he obtained his private pilot’s licence in 1989 and has flown around 2,000 hours since then. He said between 800 and 1,000 hours were spent in the Mustang.

Speaking about the crash, he said: “I have no memory of the day or some days after.

“I have no idea what went wrong on the day because I have no memory.

“I would imagine I would be doing everything I could to avoid an accident.”

The inquest heard how the aircraft, building at the end of the Second World War, was delivered to the Royal New Zealand Air Force in 1945 before going into private ownership in 1958.

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