Falklands War veteran and former paratrooper Chris Waddington was killed in a stunt plane crash near Herefordshire’s Shobdon airfield last August. The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) has now concluded that the crash was not due to any mechanical fault.
During an aerobatic practice flight, Waddington’s single-seat Pitts biplane experienced an “uncommanded autorotative right roll” while performing a manoeuvre. It then entered a steep nose-down spiral dive. Despite his attempts to recover from the dive, the plane experienced an accelerated stall, causing it to crash into the ground “in an almost vertical attitude.”
The AAIB examined the wreckage at their facility in Farnborough, Hampshire, and found “no causal or contributory technical issues.” Instead, the report suggested that the height at which the pilot attempted the manoeuvre provided “little or no safety margin” when things started going wrong.
With no time to deploy his parachute, Mr Waddington “did not survive the initial impact,” the report said. The airfield’s fire and rescue crew were at the scene within three minutes, dealing with “what remained of the intense post-crash fire” in a field south of the runway.
Investigators relied on footage from the airfield’s CCTV cameras, which captured some of the manoeuvres and the impact, as well as a submitted mobile phone video with sound to determine the plane’s engine speed.
Chris Waddington had recently appeared in a BBC documentary, Our Falklands War: A Frontline Story, commemorating the 40th anniversary of the conflict in which he served as a platoon commander. He had performed publicly several times with the US-made plane, which he purchased in 2003. The tragic loss of this experienced pilot serves as a stark reminder of the dangers and risks associated with aerobatic flights.