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Accidental death ruling over family killed in aircraft crash

Published 11/11/2016

Philip Garvey and his wife Ann, who died with their children in a plane crash in Somerset
Philip Garvey and his wife Ann, who died with their children in a plane crash in Somerset

A family of four were killed when their light aircraft crashed in poor weather, an inquest heard.

Tech company chief executive Philip Garvey, 56, his wife Ann, 55, their daughter Emily, 23, and son Daniel, 20, died when their six-seat Piper Malibu Mirage came down in Somerset in November 2015.

Somerset Coroner's Court was told that the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) carried out a thorough inquiry into the fatal accident and produced a detailed report.

The report concluded that the accident may have been caused by Mr Garvey, who was flying the plane, trying to manually start a landing descent while the autopilot was still on.

The aircraft went into a sudden climb into cloud as it approached its destination, Dunkeswell Airfield in east Devon, before going into a steep dive and smashing into the ground.

Several witnesses told the AAIB that they heard a sound like a plane doing "aerobatics" before the aircraft reappeared and hit the ground near Churchinford in the Blackdown Hills south of Taunton.

The family were flying to Dunkeswell from Fairoaks Airport in Surrey, close to their home in Woking.

Somerset Coroner Tony Williams read extracts from the report during the inquest in Taunton.

He told the court: "The evidence from the autopilot examination system suggested that, as the pilot turned onto the final approach and started to descend, the autopilot may not have been disengaged due to a mental lapse, incorrect button selection or a technical fault.

"The investigation was unable to determine with certainty the reason for the initial rapid climb. However, it was considered possible that the pilot had initiated the preceding descent by overriding the autopilot.

"This would have caused the autopilot to trim nose-up, increasing the force against the pilot's manual input.

"Such an out-of-trim condition, combined with entry into cloud, could have contributed to an unintentional and disorientating pitch-up manoeuvre."

Mr Williams said the report explained that if Mr Garvey tried to descend with the autopilot on, it would fight him as it attempted to maintain its set height, causing it to go nose-up.

While the aircraft would still have been controllable, the report said, recovery "may have been beyond his capabilities".

The court heard that Mr Garvey had been a pilot since 2012 and had bought the aircraft - his second - in the summer of 2013.

He had flown to Dunkeswell 25 times since September 2013, including 14 times from Fairoaks.

While instructors found him good at "doing things by numbers" they said he was "less able than average pilots at multi-tasking and poor at prioritising, especially when under pressure".

Post-mortem examinations concluded that the Garvey family had all died as a result of multiple injuries.

The court heard that pathologist Dr Russell Delaney had found that Mr Garvey was suffering from severe coronary artery disease and had reported a recent bout of dizziness.

Recording separate conclusions of accidental death, Mr Williams said: "I think I should record that despite the extensive and detailed investigation by the AAIB, they were unable to determine with certainty the cause of the accident.

"At best it was identified there was the possibility that Mr Garvey had initiated the incident by overriding the autopilot.

"We have the report from Dr Delaney who has identified severe coronary artery disease and recent dizzy spell and cannot rule out a medical condition as causing or contributing as far as the incident is concerned.

"Sadly I am unable to give a definitive answer to precisely what happened."

Relatives of the family said at the time they were "all utterly heartbroken" following the tragedy.

Emily, an online trade assistant with retailer Arcadia, and Daniel, a student, were described as "extremely well liked and respected by their peers" at St John the Baptist School in Woking, where they were students between 2004 and 2013.

Mr Garvey was heavily involved in the community and played guitar at school productions and church, while he was also a governor at the town's St Dunstan's Catholic Primary School.

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