Two pilots lost their lives when they flew into “freak weather conditions" that slammed their light aircraft into the English Channel at over 100mph, an air accident panel has concluded.
Lee Rogers and Brian Statham had taken off from Wellesbourne Mountford Airfield near Stratford-upon-Avon, Warks., on the morning of April 2.
They were heading to Le Touquet, a seaside town in northern France, when their Piper Cherokee Arrow II lost radar contact and crashed into the sea.
Police said at the time that the pair appeared to have lost control in treacherous weather while flying with six other aircraft from their flying club.
An Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) probe has concluded that the two men got into difficulty after flying into "highly convective cloud", which would have given rise to waterspouts and tornadoes.
Investigators said neither men were qualified to fly in cloud and they may have encountered heavy turbulence as well as rain and snow showers.
At the last radar contact the aircraft was at around 4,600 ft and losing height rapidly. The plane was descending at just under 10,000 feet per minute (approx 110mph).
A joint response was launched by the French Coastguard and HM Coastguard but the aircraft and their bodies have never been found.
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The AAIB report said: "Neither of the pilots onboard was qualified to fly in cloud. Shortly after this transmission the aircraft disappeared from radar.
"The available evidence, at the time of issue of this report, suggests that control of the aircraft was lost when it entered cloud.
"An extensive search of the area was coordinated by the UK and French Aeronautical Rescue Coordination Centres but neither the aircraft nor its occupants were found. It is likely the aircraft was substantially damaged on impact with the sea.
"It is very dangerous to enter cloud when not suitably qualified or when not in current practice in instrument flying.
"The radar evidence suggests the aircraft struck the water with a high rate of descent and the damage to the seat which was found suggests the aircraft was subjected to considerable forces and substantial disruption.
"It is therefore unlikely that the occupants had any opportunity to escape from the aircraft.”
Crispin Orr, AAIB chief inspector, said it was a "tragic accident" and reminded pilots of the importance of "pre-flight weather decision making".
He said the AAIB had investigated "numerous accidents when control of an aircraft was lost in these circumstances".
He added: "The accident highlights how hazardous it is to fly into cloud when not suitably qualified or when not in current practice in instrument flying."
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