TRIBUTES have been paid to two friends whose plane crashed after taking off from a Warwickshire airfield.
Lee Rogers and Brian Statham were flying from Wellesbourne Mountford Airfield near Stratford to Le Tourquet in France on Saturday April 2 when the plane lost contact before crashing into the Channel.
An investigation is currently being carried out by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB).
In a statement released by Warwickshire Police, the family of Lee Rogers said the two men had been taking part in a group fly-out with several other aircraft from the South Warwickshire Flying School.
After encountering freak weather conditions over the Channel, contact with the plane was lost at around 10.30am.
Despite British and French search and rescue operations, the search was called off on the evening of Sunday April 3.
The family said they had ‘no choice but to assume Lee has passed on’.
Their statement read: “It is with profound sadness that we announce the passing of a wonderful father, a loving husband, and a devoted family man Lee Rogers, who has been taken from us due to a tragic air accident.
“Anybody who knew Lee will testify to a larger-than-life character who lived life to the full, a man with a big heart and limitless generosity. A skilled and enthusiastic pilot, a lover of all manner of fast and loud machines, which also included a newfound love of yachting.
“He will leave behind a large wake and will be missed greatly – not only by his family but his legion of friends and colleagues. Lee was and always will be a legendary figure in the IT world and the Warwickshire community, most of which will have a humorous tale or two to recount regarding him.
“Not only a successful entrepreneur, known for his principled and uncompromising code of ethics, Lee was also a kind-hearted supporter of various charities. Most recently, Lee supported Guide Dogs, and raised not only a puppy, Dixon, that has gone on to qualify as a guide dog, but lots of money towards additional dogs. Part of the legacy of a wonderful human being.
“But first and foremost, Lee was a family man. Sarah has been married to Lee for eight years and they had been happy for many years before. Not just a great marriage but great partners who shared genuine adventures. Ellie, Lee’s daughter, and the apple of his eye was his greatest joy. Lee had a daily tale to tell of his little girl, another larger-than-life character who reflects her parents in all the best ways.
“It’s not fair that Ellie should be parted with her father so young, or that Sarah should be robbed of her husband way before his time or that Lee’s parents and sister lose a son and brother. Life isn’t fair, but few leave a legacy like Lee, even if they had a hundred lifetimes.
“We thank you for all your kind words and tributes. Please know that it is all appreciated. We’d also like to thank the efforts of the British and French Coastguard, who did everything they possibly could.
“We will soon let everybody know how we plan to honour Lee. In the meantime, we would ask for some time to grieve as a family.”
Brian Statham’s family said they were ‘deeply saddened’ to announce the two men ‘never made it to Le Touquet’.
They said: “As competent pilots, with over 20 years of flying experience combined, it was horrific news to hear that their plane was reported missing over the English Channel.
“The French and English coastguard searched for more than two days for any sign of wreckage, bodies or clues to help and figure out what happened to the two pilots that have left behind friends, families and co-workers.
“The families would like to thank the coastguards for their time, hard work and dedication out at sea working tirelessly to try and find any evidence, wreckage or clues as to what may have happened.
“On Thursday April 7, Brian’s flight bag from the plane was found and handed in kindly by a tourist on the beach at Le Touquet. This has been vital evidence to help us understand what happened on their last flight. We are deeply thankful for this kind and helpful act.
“We, the families of the missing pilots would now like to ask for help.
“If you live on the northern coast of France or the southern coast of England and like to spend time at the beach or near the English Channel, please be vigilant for any form of aircraft debris, clothes and personal items. If you see anything, please pick it up and hand it into the local authorities.
“Brian is pictured wearing some of the clothes he had on his final flight.
“Your help in this could provide comfort and closure for the families and allow us to start the grieving process.
“As of this week, our loved ones are missing and we are unable to even consider a funeral.”