Shoreham Air Show Crash

Shoreham Air Show Crash – England
22 August 2015
Hawker Hunter T7

On 22 August 2015, a Hawker Hunter T7 aircraft involved in an air show in Shoreham, West Sussex, crashed into the westbound carriageway of the A27 during an aerobatic manoeuvre, killing 11 and causing physical and psychological injuries to a group of people in close proximity to the point of impact. The pilot survived but sustained serious injuries. The Final Accident Report by the Air Accident Investigations Branch ("AAIB") is expected to be published during 2017. The AAIB published three special bulletins on this accident in which they revealed the initial findings of the investigation and made a number of safety recommendations.

Jim Morris, a former RAF pilot and Head of Aviation Law at Ashfords LLP, worked at international air shows at RAF Leuchars and RAF Waddington where he was a flying display coordinator, and has professional experience in performing aerobatic manoeuvres in the Hawk jet military aircraft and other high performance turbo-prop and piston aircraft. From his analysis of the special bulletins, below are some of the key points:

  • No problems were found with the aircraft.
  • The aircraft had been fully refueled before it took off. The relevance of how its weight during this display flight may have affected its handling characteristics and the severity of the explosion needs to be determined.
  • At the apex of the failed manoeuvre, the AAIB indicate that the aircraft was approximately 2600ft above sea level and at a minimum speed of 100 knots. The final report should clarify the speed and height it should have been travelling at and whether the aircraft could perform the rest of the planned manoeuvre and recover level flight at or above the agreed display minima heights. The AAIB Report states that these minima were 100ft for a fly-past and 500ft for manoeuvres.
  • The pilot was very experienced and capable and was fully qualified for the routine he was performing. However, the report identifies that only 40 hours of his 14,000 hours experience was on this particular aircraft - the final report should clarify whether this was a relevant factor.
  • There was no black box as it is a military aircraft – but there were two cockpit cameras that may provide important information that can be included in the Final Report.
  • It is unclear whether the pilot attempted to initiate an ejection from the aircraft or if he and his seat were thrown free on impact – this may give an indication as to whether he was incapacitated during the final stages of the manoeuvre.
  • The Flying Display Director did not know the details of the aerobatic sequence in advance of the display.
  • The pilot’s display authorisation check was done in a different aircraft type, not the Hawker Hunter.

On 22 March 2016, the first pre-Inquest review was held at County Hall North in Horsham. Jim Morris appeared for families of victims tragically killed in the accident. When the Final Accident Report is published, the date for the Inquest should be set, possibly during 2017.

Following the publication of the Final Accident Report and the conclusion of the Inquest, it is hoped that the full chain of events that led to this tragedy are identified and that appropriate measures to improve flight safety in air displays will be implemented.

In terms of the law applicable to this tragedy, section 76 (2) of the Civil Aviation Act 1982 imposes strict liability on the owner of the aircraft where damage is caused to anybody or any property on land by an aircraft whilst in flight. This means that damages for the tragic losses and injuries are recoverable from the owner without having to prove negligence or intention.

Key Contact

Jim Morris

Partner, Barrister and Head of Aviation

[javascript protected email address]
+44 (0)20 7544 2403


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