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‘I didn’t believe it was happening’ - couple on scene at Old Buckenham Airfield crash rushed to help pilot

06:30 23 April 2015

David Jenkins of The Wildcats Aerobatics Team.

David Jenkins of The Wildcats Aerobatics Team.

Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2013

It was supposed to be a day of excitement, a chance to marvel at wartime aircraft and even enjoy a whirlwind trip up above the airfield.

The EDP and Mustard TV had been invited to an airshow press preview, where the organisers had planned to reveal an impressive line-up for what they hoped would be their biggest and best show to date.

And as the clouds dispersed and the sun beamed down, the anticipation was palpable.

A 1940s Staggerwing, vintage trucks and cars and a nuclear missile sat just outside the main building as around 20 spectators crowded outside to watch the Wildcat Aerobatics team start their show.

Two-thirds arrived first – as Mr Coutts and Mr Cruickshank roared by, spinning and looping, landing on the runway just metres away.

Fifteen minutes later, the sound of Mr Jenkins’ Edge 360 came into earshot.

Spectators peered round, ready for the next instalment, as he confidently performed the group’s usual stomach-turning rolls and spins, before veering off to the left.

It was then he moved into the flat spin, rotating quickly towards the ground, an empty area of grassland less than 50 metres from the crowd.

There were no words of concern – Mr Jenkins was an incredibly experienced pilot who had performed the same manoeuvre countless times.

But a plume of thick smoke and a flash of flames signalled something had gone terribly wrong – and cries of “crash” from fellow pilots and airshow staff confirmed the horror.

They sprang into action – calling the emergency services and sprinting to the scene to do what they could, as the area fell quiet.

A husband and wife, who wished to remain anonymous, were first to the crash site. She said: “We feel totally numb, shocked and upset. I said, ‘It’s crashed, it’s crashed’, but I didn’t believe it was happening.

“We drove down because I, probably stupidly, thought there was some chance we could help and get him out. We got down to the plane but it was just an inferno – the front half was intact but the back end was gone.”

The husband bravely battled the blaze with a small extinguisher from his car, before emergency services took over and began attempting to piece together what had happened.

Back at the centre, there were quiet murmurs of disbelief and tears from his friends in the stunned silence.

It was broken by the noise of sirens and the arrival of the air ambulance, which hovered overhead, as it became clear the accident was fatal.

Spectators remained on scene as police officers took statements and attempted to piece together how such a tragic accident had happened to a pilot with so many years of experience behind him.

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