Eleven people are so far feared to have died when a Hawker Hunter jet plummeted on to the A27 after it failed to pull out of a loop manoeuvre during an aerial display, exploding in a huge fireball as it ploughed through cars on the busy road.
But with recovery of the wreckage of the aircraft expected to take place later today, Sussex Police assistant chief constable Steve Barry said the number of dead could rise.
He said: “To give people a sense of scale and also the number of people we are trying to work with in terms of the movements of their loved ones, then I would be really surprised if it would be more than 20.”
Mr Barry added: “Today there is a plan for a crane to come and the plan is for the plane to be moved and then for the recovery to continue.
“The plane needs to be made safe. There are issues around fuel in the aircraft still and there is an issue around making sure the ejector seat is still safe.
“Hopefully the aircraft will be moved today. What that will uncover in terms of further recovery work is unknown and it’s possible that once the aircraft is moved that we will discover more fatalities.
“Once the aircraft is moved then the forensic examination of the scene continues and even then, once that’s clear, the highway will need major repairs, so it could be days rather than hours before the A27 is opened.”
Meanwhile, the pilot involved in the Shoreham air disaster has been described as “unbelievably experienced” and his preparation for air displays was “second to none”, an expert has said.
George Bacon, of the British Air Display Association, said he worked with former RAF instructor Andy Hill at an event earlier this month and he was “very thorough” in the way he prepared for flights.
He told BBC Breakfast: “He was an unbelievably experienced chap. Very, very thorough and professional in the way he prepares for his displays. All pilots are required to undertake training and mentoring before they undertake display flying.
“The preparation this particular pilot undertook was second to none. I was involved in another event with him just a week ago and he always would call in, as many of them do, to debrief their last display to try and work out whether there was any better way of doing it.
“I think what we have to do with this is take a step back for a moment, it’s terribly tragic, and give time for the families to try and overcome this awful tragedy and then together we will work within the UK to see if we can find other ways of preventing this ever happening again.”