AT LEAST seven people were killed after a fighter jet smashed into traffic on a busy dual carriageway before bursting into flames after a failed stunt during an air show display.
Thousands of horrified spectators watched as the 1950s Hawker Hunter jet crashed into traffic on the A27 next to Shoreham Airshow in West Sussex after failing to pull out of a loop-the-loop manoeuvre yesterday afternoon.
The pilot, named locally as formation instructor Andy Hill, is believed to have been pulled from the burning wreckage and was last night said to be recovering in hospital.
Last night the South East Coast Ambulance Service confirmed that there has been seven fatalities at the scene, one patient with serious life-threatening injuries, and a further 14 patients treated for minor injuries following the accident.
“Our thoughts are with the families and loved ones,” a spokesman for the ambulance service said.
Photographs of the crash site taken by witnesses appeared to show the burning aircraft ploughing across the road just yards from cars and a group of people, its canopy open and wing ablaze, engulfing traffic lights and roadwork cones and signs in a huge ball of fire. Burning debris thrown high in the air can also be seen on some photographs.
One eyewitness, Jason Gunn, 53, said the plane appeared to “split in half”.
He said: “I was watching the display from on top of my car. As it came down, it seemed like it didn’t have enough power to lift it up. I saw it just going below the tree and I expected it to come up.
“But it didn’t and suddenly – boom, boom! It looked as if it split in half.”
Laura Raymond, a presenter for Splash FM, said the accident happened less than a quarter of a mile from where crowds and families were watching the event.
She said a “couple of planes” were taking part in a jet display when one appeared to fly too close to the ground before onlookers saw a “huge ball of fire and black smoke”.
“Within seconds we were thinking, ‘Gosh, that plane is going rather low.’ There was a ball of fire – we didn’t even hear an impact – and then plumes of black smoke.”
It is the second tragic incident at the Shoreham Airshow in recent years.
In September 2007 James Bond stuntman Brian Brown, 49, died when he crashed a Second World War Hurricane after carrying out a barrel roll at a re-enactment of the Battle of Britain.
Yesterday, a West Sussex police spokesman said: “A number of people are known to have died when a historic military jet crashed into a busy main road at Shoreham in Sussex.
“The Hawker Hunter was taking part in an air show at the airport adjacent to the A27 when it crashed on to the road at 1.20pm.
“Emergency services have declared a major incident and a number of helicopters have been deployed to the scene to evacuate casualties to hospital.
“South East Coast Ambulance Service have confirmed that there have been seven fatalities declared at the scene. One patient with serious life-threatening injuries has been transported to Royal Sussex County Hospital and a further 14 patients treated for minor injuries.
“The casualties are all believed to have occurred on the road at this time and there are not thought to be any injuries to anyone actually on the airfield.
The A27 was closed at Lancing and to the north of Hove, police added, and was expected to remain closed for some time.
The Hawker Hunter is a British jet plane known for its manoeuvrability and speed.
The WV372 model, which crashed at Shoreham Airshow was built for the Royal Air Force at a factory in Kingston-upon-Thames in the 1950s.
The aircraft – one of more than 1,900 to be built – made its first flight on 17 July, 1955. It was later sent to West Germany, only returning to the UK to be maintained.