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Pilot's heart condition might have been factor in fatal Newtownards crash

By Neil Lancefield

Published 14/04/2016

Stephen McKnight
Stephen McKnight
The scene of the airfield crash

A pilot who died in a crash at an airfield may have been incapacitated by a heart problem, accident investigators have found.

Stephen McKnight (55) was practising circuits in a light aircraft at 10.20am on April 7 last year when the accident happened at Newtownards Airport near Belfast.

A report by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) found that the two-seater microlight rolled left shortly after becoming airborne following a touch-and-go landing.

After reaching 80-100 feet its nose dropped and the plane struck grass to the left of the runway.

The aircraft suffered significant damage and Mr McKnight was taken to Ulster Hospital in Dundonald, where he later died.

The State Pathologist for Northern Ireland found that he died as a result of chest injuries. A review of the findings by a Royal Air Force aviation pathologist found that he had a "considerably enlarged heart" for a man of his height and weight.

The report added that symptoms related to his heart "could potentially have produced a degree of distraction or incapacitation which could have led to the final manoeuvre".

It concluded that there was "no definite pathological evidence" to prove this happened, but noted that it could not be ruled out.

Mr McKnight's GP signed a five-year medical declaration in October 2013 stating that he was fit to fly. Toxicology tests found no evidence of alcohol or drugs, and the aircraft's engine showed no signs of a pre-existing defect.

Mr McKnight, from Culcavy, Hillsborough, was described by his instructor as "a good, safe and meticulous pilot who took flying seriously". He had 89 hours of flying experience and was carrying out conversion training on CT2K and C42 microlights.

Belfast Telegraph

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