TWO friends whose plane crashed into the Channel after taking off from a Warwickshire airfield in April are believed to have lost control after entering heavy cloud.
The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) has published a Special Bulletin concerning the plane flown by Lee Rogers and Brian Statham, which went missing around 20 miles west of Le Touquet, France on April 2.
The bulletin says the plane disappeared from radar shortly after one of the pilots reported they were in cloud. Lee and Brian were not qualified to fly in cloud.
Stratford man Lee, formerly of Warwick, and Balsall Common resident Brian were flying to Le Tourquet from Wellesbourne Mountford Airfield near Stratford.
They had been taking part in a group fly-out with several other aircraft from the South Warwickshire Flying School, where the pair met ten years ago.
An extensive search was conducted by the UK and French Aeronautical Rescue Coordination Centres but neither the aircraft nor its occupants were found.
Crispin Orr, Chief Inspector of Air Accidents, said: “This was a tragic accident and our thoughts are with the loved ones of the missing pilots at this time.
“The accident highlights how hazardous it is to fly into cloud when not suitably qualified or when not in current practice in instrument flying. Sadly, the AAIB has investigated numerous accidents when control of an aircraft was lost in these circumstances.
“Pilots are reminded of the importance of pre-flight weather decision making and always having contingency plans just in case the weather proves to be worse than expected.”
Following the accident, the family of Lee Rogers paid tribute to “a wonderful father, a loving husband, and a devoted family man”.
they said: “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.
“Sarah has been married to Lee for eight years and they had been happy for many years before. Ellie, Lee’s daughter, and the apple of his eye was his greatest joy.”
Brian Statham’s family paid tribute to a loving husband and father, adding: “Brian was one of the most caring, kind and honest men in the entire world. He always put his family and friends first and never said no to fixing or helping with any problem he’d come across.
“Brian leaves behind a son, Douglas, twin daughters Ellen and Georgina, stepchildren Vickie and Jack, and a loving wife Jackie.”
The AAIB said its investigation continues to examine ‘operational, technical, and human factors’ which might have contributed to the accident. A final report will be issued in due course.