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Inquest finds heart condition contributed to pilot David Jenkins’ death

David Jenkins, aerobatic pilot from Stanton, ANL-140828-173706001
David Jenkins, aerobatic pilot from Stanton, ANL-140828-173706001

A champion pilot killed in a crash in Old Buckenham last year was described as “a devoted family man” and “among the best in the world”, as an inquest ruled an undetected heart condition contributed to his death.

David Jenkins, 61, a retired engineer and father-of-three of Stanton, died on April 22, 2015, when the Edge 360 plane he was piloting crashed at Old Buckenham Airfield. The two-time British Aerobatics Advanced Champion had been performing for press at a closed event ahead of the airfield’s annual air show, but lost control of the craft after attempting an advanced tumbling manoeuvre’, entering a spin from which he did not recover.

The verdict from the inquest, held yesterday at Norwich Coroner’s Court, echoed the conclusions of the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) report published earlier this month, which stated he was likely incapacitated at a critical moment due to an undiagnosed blood clot.

Mr Jenkins’ wife Elaine paid tribute to him with a statement during the inquest, stating he was “a caring and thoughtful man” with a very strong passion for flying.

“David was my best friend and we had so many amazing memories,” Mrs Jenkins said.

“It was so important for David to care for and nurture other people. He made such a difference to other people, and that was David all over. He was the person I could turn to for anything.

“I have to carry on for the sake of my children but the pain is still there. He is irreplaceable.”

The inquest, led by Senior Coroner for Norfolk, Jacqueline Lake, heard that on the day of his death, prior to the crash, Mr Jenkins was an invited passenger on a flight in a Tornado fighter plane from RAF Marham. He had been cleared to fly after passing a medical, and according to multiple sources, he appeared to be completely healthy.

However, a post-mortem examination discovered evidence of thrombosis-complicating coronary atheroma – the narrowing of the coronary arteries and the formation of a blood clot, which can have extremely severe effects.

RAF pathologist, Wing Commander Graeme Maidment, in a statement on the findings of the autopsy, said: “It is possible during the increased physical workload, it caused some symptoms which may have impaired his ability to perform complex manoeuvres.”

Kenneth Fairbank, senior inspector at AAIB, told the inquest there were no mechanical faults with the plane, and that weather conditions on the day had been good for flying.

He stated he could not discount the possibility that Mr Jenkins’ flight in the Tornado earlier in the day had increased his acceptance of risk, in light of the complexity of the final manoeuvre he attempted.

But he reiterated the AAIB report’s findings that, given these decisions were “not in keeping with Mr Jenkins’ character”, his undiagnosed heart problem “may have affected his judgement and decision making”.

“Mr Jenkins was a very experienced pilot. Some of the things we saw on the day did not match that level of experience and ability,” Mr Fairbank said.

“We had to consider whether the medical condition may have had a major bearing on the events of the day.”

Following the evidence, the 11-person jury returned a verdict of ‘accidental death contributed to by natural causes’.

Mr Jenkins first started flying lessons in 1985 after moving to California with his wife, whom he had married that same year.

After returning to England, he continued to pursue flying and began competing in UK aerobatics contests in 2004. After winning the 2012 and 2013 British championship, as well as representing Great Britain in European and world competitions, he joined Wildcat Aerobatics in 2013.

Al Coutts, a fellow Wildcat member, who had known Mr Jenkins since the late 1990s, said: “David was very gifted and known across the world as an accomplished aerobatic pilot.

“It was standard David that day. He was as happy as I have ever seen him. David had the ability to be very childlike at times in a very positive way. He was full of life.”

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