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How did star aerobatic pilot die?

Published 23/04/2015

Police at the Old Buckenham Airfield near Attleborough, Norfolk, after a pilot died after crashing during an aerobatics display.
Police at the Old Buckenham Airfield near Attleborough, Norfolk, after a pilot died after crashing during an aerobatics display.

An investigation has begun into how one of Britain's top aerobatic pilots died during a display.

David Jenkins, in his 50s, was flying his Edge 360 plane during a media event to launch the Old Buckenham Airshow in Norfolk yesterday when he experienced problems.

The moment the aircraft began to lose control was caught on camera by a local television crew but witnesses first thought it was part of the daredevil display.

It was only when smoke began billowing from the ground that onlookers realised the aircraft had crashed and rushed to attempt to rescue Mr Jenkins.

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch has been informed. A team has been deployed and will begin an inquiry into what went wrong.

The two-time British advanced aerobatics champion was described by friends as "one of the best" and "highly skilled".

He was a member of the Wildcat Aerobatic Team based at Old Buckenham Airfield, near Attleborough, where the event was taking place.

A spokesman for the Wildcats said Mr Jenkins - known as Wildcat 3 - was one of the leading aerobatic pilots in the UK.

He said: "We were honoured to fly alongside him. David was highly respected on the ground and in the air and will be greatly missed.

"His family and friends are very much in our thoughts."

A crowd had gathered to watch the display at about 2.40pm, b ut police were called after onlookers saw the aircraft falling to the ground.

Norwich-based television channel Mustard TV caught the incident on camera.

It did not broadcast footage of the crash but showed the aircraft heading towards the ground before cutting to images of friends and colleagues of Mr Jenkins rushing to the crash site with fire extinguishers.

Reporter Mark Summers said: "I saw the plane go down. I saw it bank to its right and then correct to its left and then what I assumed was a stunt of spinning which must have been the pilot losing control."

One of Mr Jenkins's close friends, who did not wish to be named, said at the airfield gate: "He was the best bloke I knew. He was highly skilled and knew exactly what he was doing."

Simon Garrett, a pilot who flew out of the airfield earlier in the day, said he found out about the tragedy only when he returned that evening after being diverted elsewhere.

He said: "We were due to land back here but were sent elsewhere because of this emergency.

"It is a terrible tragedy and very unusual because, although there are inherent risks, the teams involved are highly skilled.

"I knew the gentleman involved and he was very experienced."

Mr Jenkins was named British advanced champion in 2012 and 2013 and had won more than 40 medals in aerobatic competitions.

He was a member of the UK team at the 2012 aerobatic world championships.

According to his profile on the Wildcat's website, he began flying as a teenager living close to Panshanger airfield near Welwyn Garden City.

After a career in fibre optics, the Oxford University graduate obtained his private pilot's licence and flew conventionally for 15 years before beginning aerobatics 10 years ago.

He bought the Edge aircraft which he was flying at the time of his death in 2009.

The US-made Edge is one of only four in Europe. It has a maximum speed of 240mph and is made from carbon fibre, meaning it is very light.

Mr Jenkins joined the Wildcat team in 2013, providing "an exciting dynamic solo display", the website said.

A Norfolk Police spokesman said: "Officers attended along with colleagues from Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service and the East of England Ambulance Service to find wreckage near to the airfield. Sadly, the pilot of the aircraft died at the scene."

A file will be prepared for the Norfolk coroner.

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