August 18, 2008
Five Die As Aircraft Collide Trying to Land at Coventry
By Rhona Ganguly; Tom Scotney
Emergency services were searching woodland last night for the bodies of five people killed in a midair collision between two small aircraft on the approach to Coventry Airport.
The latter, manned only by a pilot who was believed to have died instantly on impact in the mid-air crash, came down near the Coombe Abbey luxury hotel, Brinklow, five miles from Coventry Airport. The Cessna crashed moments later in nearby BrandonWoods.
The crash happened at 11.38am yesterday. Coventry Road, which runs alongside Coombe, was sealed off to traffic as emergency services launched a search operation.
It is the second time the area has been hit by a major air disaster - in December 1994, five people were also killed in a crash on an approach into Coventry Airport.
Yesterday's tragedy happened as both aircraft were returning to Coventry Airport, which was closed following the crash.
The quartet from the Cessna were working for the RVL Group, a part of the Reconnaissance Ventures company. RVL is a specialist aviation company with a head office and engineering and operations centre at Coventry Airport. It has been in operation for more than 20 years.
Colin Dennis, managing director of RVL Group said the whole company was saddened by the accident, and there was not yet any explanation how the collision had happened to such an experienced crew. "One of our aircraft, a twin-engined Cessna 402 on very routine survey work, was returning to land at Coventry," he said.
"It was approximately one minute from landing - we believe it had been called by Coventry air traffic control to land - and at that point there was a mid-air collision with a single-engined light aircraft. Of the four people on board the aircraft, there were two males and two females. Three of them were highly-experienced full commercial pilots. Two people were operating the flight, and the third pilot was assisting in the back with survey work, with a highly skilled survey engineer.
"We don't know why it happened and we don't know yet what conversations took place between these aircraft. It was a very routine flight and the aircraft was performing perfectly normally as far as we know. It was doing exactly what it should have been doing.
"It's a very difficult time because we are a very small company, a family kind of company.
"It's an absolute tragedy that they should have been killed while doing this routine work."
RVL has worked with a number of government agencies and military and security specialists doing mapping work, but the project being carried out when the crash happened was for a private agency.
Bodies currently working with RVL include the Coastguard Agency, the Environment Agency and the RAF. The group also runs a cadet scheme to teach young people how to take the ATPL licence - the highestlevel pilots' qualification that is needed for pilots to fly a large commercial airline.
Paul Harwood, head of human resources at Coventry Airport, said he knew those who died in the crash.
"They are known to us all. They've been around for some time, most of us have been around for some time," he said.
"It is a small community, and our sympathies don't just go out to our families, it's all those who are affected by today."
Detective Superintendent Adrian McGee, of Warwickshire Police, said both aircraft would have been in contact with air traffic control up until the moment they crashed.
West Midlands Ambulance Service said its crews had found "quite a scene of devastation".
Incident commander Richard Topping said: "One ambulance, two incident officers, myself as incident commander and the Warwickshire and North Hants Air Ambulance attended the scene.
"There were four people in one aircraft who died and one in another. There were no survivors."
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