North Suffolk pilot killed by propeller ‘unlikely to have heard it’

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A former RAF pilot of 30 years who was killed by a rotating propeller at an airfield in south Norfolk was wearing a headset and may not have heard it, an inquest heard.

Norfolk Coroner William Armstrong recorded a verdict of accidental death for Alistair Mathie, who died on January 28 last year.

The 67-year-old, from Burgate, was giving a flying lesson when the tragedy happened at Priory Farm, Tibenham Airfield, just after 3.15pm.

The inquest heard that Mr Mathie stepped out of the cockpit of the plane with the engine still running.

He stopped to unplug his headset, but not remove it, and also to help Robert Weller - who was still inside the plane - shut the window and door.

From there, Mr Mathie walked into the Piper J3C-65’s propeller.

He died instantly as a result of head injuries.

Nicholas Dann, senior inspector of air accidents at Air Accidents Investigation Branch, investigated the case.

He appeared at Tuesday’s Norwich hearing, where he confirmed his belief that the headset “would have reduced the ability to hear the engine and propeller”.

Given that the plane was one where the propeller needs to be started by hand, Mr Dann acknowledged that not only was it not unusual for the engine to be left running between flights, but also that recent accident history involving light aircraft showed that it might even be less dangerous.

He added: “It is impossible to determine the exact cause. Why it happened, we can only surmise by looking at various theories.”

The inquest heard that three days before the tragedy, Mr Mathie underwent an extensive medical examination. He was found to be in excellent shape.

The inquest was attended by Mr Mathie’s wife, Dot. She and Mr Mathie, a “highly-regarded pilot” with 14,709 flying hours, were married for 41 years.