Friends Lee Rogers and Brian Statham took off from an airfield near Stratford-upon-Avon bound for Le Touquet in France but tragically crashed into the English Channel in “unusual weather conditions” and died
Two friends who died when their light plane crashed into the English Channel were not qualified to fly through clouds, investigators said.
Former Solihull mechanic Brian Statham took off for northern France from an airfield in Stratford-upon-Avon on the morning of April 2 with his buddy and co-pilot Lee Rogers.
The duo, who have had over 20 years of combined flight time, flew a Piper Cherokee Arrow II (G-EGVA) on a cloud forecast route.
The Piper was one of seven aircraft to set out on a club “fly out” with the South Warwickshire Flying School. Birmingham Live reports.
Both Brian and Lee flew under “visual flight rules”—an aviation term for operating in weather clear enough for them to see their route.
None of them were qualified to fly with the plane’s instruments, investigators say.
The duo are said to have entered cloud above the Channel and then lost contact with them 20 nautical miles west of Le Touquet just before 9.20am.
Warwickshire Police previously said the pair encountered “crazy weather conditions” over the Channel, although accident investigators said “the cloud was predicted” and was actually seen by the pilots en route.
The plane descended and then climbed with investigators believing the pilots may have been trying to avoid the cloud.
At the last point of contact, it spun and sank at a speed of more than 100 miles per minute (10,000 feet per minute), where it is believed to
A special May 13 Air Accident Investigation Board bulletin said: “It is not possible to know the intentions of the pilots, but these altitude changes may have been an attempt to avoid cloud.
“Once they got to 7,000 feet, they couldn’t go any higher because of the controlled airspace above.
“Shortly after reaching 7,000 feet, the aircraft’s radio transmission confirmed that the aircraft had entered the cloud. None of the occupants were qualified to fly in clouds.
“It is not known if they inadvertently breached the cloud.
“G-EGVA’s video recording and photos from the other aircraft show that the cloud was clearly defined and visible from several miles away.
“So there should have been enough time to turn back if they weren’t able to bypass the cloud.”
It continued: “It is possible that the occupants’ previous experience of flying through clouds without incident encouraged them to attempt to fly through them on this occasion.” It is not known exactly when the plane entered the clouds.
“However, in the few minutes before the aircraft was lost from radar, the aircraft began to change course and altitude before descending in a steeper right turn.
“The predicted severe turbulence and icing in the clouds could have contributed to the controlled flight being aborted.
“When the last radio transmission was made, the plane was descending through 7,000 feet at about 3,000 fpm.
“At the last radar point, the aircraft passed 4,600 feet and descended at just under 10,000 fpm.
“The initial assessment concluded that the damage sustained by the seat salvaged from G-EGVA and its extrication from the aircraft was consistent with the airframe being subjected to significant forces and significant disruption.”
Accident investigators said control of the plane was lost when it entered a “highly active cumulus cloud that had been predicted.”
It said: “None of the occupants were qualified to fly in the IMC [instrument meteorological conditions].
“It is likely that the plane sustained significant damage when it hit the sea.
“The radar evidence indicates that the aircraft hit the water with a high rate of descent and the damage found to the seat indicates that the aircraft was subjected to significant forces and significant disturbances. It is therefore unlikely that the occupants had any means of escaping the aircraft.”
The AAIB report added: “It is very dangerous to go to the clouds unless you are properly qualified or in current practice of instrument flying.
“The AAIB has investigated numerous accidents in which an aircraft lost control after penetrating a cloud under these circumstances, whether intentionally or accidentally.”
It was referring to the Civil Aviation Authority’s Safety Sense brochure, which said: “More than three-quarters of the pilots killed losing control in the IMC were flying in instrument conditions with no instrument qualification.
“Disorientation can affect anyone, especially those who have not been adequately trained and maintained in instrument flying.
“It’s important to be able to see and identify forward-looking clouds early enough to safely avoid them.”
Despite searches organized by British and French Air Rescue Coordination Centers, neither the bodies of the two men nor their planes were found.
But items from the plane washed up on the French coast, including a bag containing a pilot’s license, a logbook and other flight documents.
A kneeboard and a crumpled passenger seat.
Mr Statham grew up in coleshill and ran a workshop in Castle Vale for over 40 years.
His family previously paid tribute, saying: “Brian was one of the most caring, kind and honest men in the whole world.
“He has always put his family and friends first and never said no to solving or helping them with any problems he encountered.
“Brian was a larger than life character who always lived his life to the fullest. He will be sorely missed by all.”
The family also paid tribute to Mr Rogers, who worked in IT in Alcester, saying: “Anyone who knew Lee will testify to a larger than life character who lived life to the fullest, a man of a big heart and boundless generosity .
“He will leave a huge mark and will be greatly missed – not only by his family but also by his legion of friends and colleagues.”