A FATHER saved the life of his son by telling him to “brace” seconds before their light aircraft crashed, an inquest heard this week.
Alcester couple Lewis Tonkinson, 50, who was piloting the plane, and wife Sally, 44, were both killed when it came down in Blackwood Forest in Hampshire in January last year. Their six year-old son George was left critically ill.
The inquest jury in Basingstoke was told Mr Tomkinson had struggled to control the aircraft when the engine stalled in bad weather, and George later told crash investigators his father had told him to take up the brace position with his head between his knees.
Scott Wilson, of the Air Accidents Investigation Branch, said: “The one bit of evidence I’m happy to give is that his dad told him to take the brace position.
“That tells me the pilot was aware the plane was in difficulty. It tells me he was conscious at the time and was trying to avoid a crash.”
The jury ruled a problem with the engine of the Alpi Pioneer plane, coupled with bad weather, were the cause of the crash on January 3 – just two days after marketing boss Mr Tonkinson’s 50th birthday.
The couple, who lived in the village of Cookhill, were pronounced dead at the scene but their son was found unconscious in the wreckage of the plane. He was flown by air ambulance to Southampton General Hospital’s specialist neurological unit.
They had been flying home to Warwickshire after visiting friends on the Isle of Wight. They were due to land at Bidford, close to the family home.
The Air Accident Investigation Branch report says during the flight occasional low cloud and poor visibility may have meant Mr Tonkinson was at times unable to see the ground.
It says as the plane approached Popham Airfield it manoeuvred as if preparing to land but then stalled and hit trees before crashing into the ground.
It was later discovered that in addition to problems caused by the weather there was also a problem with the engine’s turbocharger control, which could have resulted in the engine seizing up in flight.
The jury, under instruction from the coroner, recorded a narrative verdict – where the circumstances of deaths are recorded without attributing the cause to a named individual.
This also allows them to expand on their verdict and give a longer explanation of what they think the main or important issues were.
Coroner Andrew Bradley said: “In the course of attempts to land at Popham airfield in Hampshire, the engine seized and lost power, then collided with trees and crashed into the ground.”
The family did not issue any statement following the verdict.