9 January 2002

Man dies in 5,000ft fall from aeroplane without parachute

By Arifa Akbar

A man died after falling 5,000ft from an aeroplane without a parachute yesterday. The victim, who is believed to be in his mid-40s, was the only passenger in the privately owned light aircraft.

The man, who has not been formally identified, fell from the Cessna 172 twin-seater plane on to a football pitch in the village of Fifield, west Oxfordshire, a few hundred yards from rows of houses, at 3pm. His body was recovered an hour later, after being spotted by a police helicopter.

The female pilot landed safely at the nearby RAF Brize Norton. Thames Valley Police said the pilot and passenger were not related but were both British nationals.

Last night detectives were questioning the pilot, who was said to be "extremely shocked". Investigations are being conducted by the Ministry of Defence Police, the Civil Aviation Authority and Thames Valley Police.

A spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority said the pilot had been heading from France to Northampton when she asked for permission to divert because of icing on the wings. He said: "Permission was given to land at RAF Brize Norton and [the plane] did so safely. However, the pilot reported that 10 nautical miles from its destination the passenger opened the door and jumped out. We have very little further information at the moment. We will be continuing our investigations."

Supt Liam MacDougall, of Thames Valley Police, said the initial report of the incident had arrived through air traffic control officials. He added that it was too early to comment on reports that the passenger may have deliberately jumped from the aircraft and officers were "keeping an open mind" until their investigations had been completed.

"The circumstances surrounding this are unclear and there is a full-scale investigation under way," he said.

The identity of the dead man was not expected to be released until tomorrow morning when an inquest would be opened.