AN AWARD-winning Scottish pilot was killed when his aircraft plunged into the sea off Thailand while he was taking a passenger on a memorial journey for a friend who had passed away.
Businessman Tom Grieve, 57, died after his microlight plummeted 2,000ft into the Gulf of Thailand on Saturday. Eye witnesses said they saw the aircraft begin to shudder when the engine cut out before seeing it fall into the water.
Both men in the aircraft were rescued from the water, but the Scot later died in hospital in nearby Pattaya from chest injuries. His passenger, Patrick Esser, 31, is recovering from a broken arm. Mr Esser said he was scattering the ashes of one of his friend’s who had recently died of cancer when the tragedy happened.
Mr Esser, of Dorset, said the GT450 microlight plane dropped from the sky at about 70mph before clipping the edge of a newly built pier in Pattaya Bay and plunging into the water.
“I was making a tribute to my best friend when suddenly things went terribly wrong,” he said. “I had done a rehearsal flight the previous day with Tom and everything went fine.
“We were at about 2,000ft when the engine cut out. Tom tried several times to start it, but failed. He was gliding it down and aiming for a large piece of concrete to land on.
“We must have been going about 70mph when we clipped something. We went head-over-heels and crashed into the water upside down.
“I managed to get out and started looking for Tom, then I saw him surface. He seemed OK, but was in some pain. Hospital staff desperately tried to give him resuscitation, but failed. They told me he had internal injuries in his chest.”
Other eyewitnesses told how they saw the aircraft circle three times in the air close to a mountainside before smoke started billowing from the engine.
Mr Grieve was well known among light aircraft pilots across Scotland and won a number of awards while training at Connel Flying Club near Oban in Argyll.
He flew the “Dawn to Dusk” challenge – taking off and landing at every inhabited island in the Orkneys in one day – for which he received an award from the Duke of Edinburgh. Tragically, his co-pilot for that event, Peter Oldham, died while flying in Zambia shortly afterwards.
John MacGilvray, former chief flying instructor of Connel Gliding Club, described the Scot’s death as a “shock”.
Mr MacGilvray, 79, who lives near Oban, said: “It’s a shock and it’s a blow to hear of another flyer being involved in a fatal accident. The community will be sorry to hear of his death.
“Tom was from the Central Belt. He visited here frequently and flew here frequently for about five years. For a while he was here every weekend.
“He had been out to Thailand on a couple of holidays and then, all of a sudden, about 12 years ago, he decided to join a friend who had moved there. The friend had tried to set up as a microlight instructor. Tom had his own microlight and he shipped it out to Thailand when he left.”
Mr Grieve, who lived in Pattaya, had spent the past few years working as an instructor at the Nongprue Flying Club and was regularly seen in the skies in the area, north of Bangkok.
He also owned his own company, Fly Thailand, and the firm’s website states he became the first foreign flexwing instructor and examiner appointed by the Department of Aviation in Thailand. He had been flying light aircraft for more than 20 years.