By Chris York
The pilot whose plane crashed during the Shoreham Airshow, killing 11 men, has dismissed claims he ever had a “cavalier attitude” to flying.
Speaking for the first time in public since the 2015 crash, Andrew Hill stood in the witness box as he gave evidence at his trial in the Old Bailey on Wednesday.
The 1950s Hawker Hunter fighter jet plunged to the ground and exploded in a fireball on the A27 in West Sussex after Hill attempted a loop on August 22. The 54-year-old, of Sandon, Buntingford, Hertfordshire, denies 11 counts of manslaughter by gross negligence.
Prosecutors previously told the court the crash was due to “pilot error” and although Hill was normally considered “careful and competent”, he had taken “risks” in the past, suggesting he sometimes played “fast and loose” with the rules and may have had a “more cavalier attitude to safety than was appropriate”.
Karim Khalil QC, defending, asked Hill if he was a “cavalier” pilot.
Dressed in a black suit, white shirt and dark blue tie, he replied: “I would say I was probably one of the least people that applied to, in the sense that there are ways to be cavalier and some people are, some people are not.
“I believe I took a very structured, disciplined approach to it [display flying].”
The jury of seven women and four men listened as he told the court he sometimes held back from flights he was not comfortable with carrying out, adding: “We have our strengths and weaknesses.”
Referring to Hill’s final display which ended with “catastrophic” consequences, Khalil asked if he intended to cause risk to anybody.
Hill replied: “Absolutely not, for a multitude of reasons.
“It was the primary aim of the display to avoid risk.”
Before being called to give evidence, the defendant – who gave his full name as Andrew Grenville Hill – spent much of the morning bending down in the dock, moving around and making notes.
As he began speaking in his defence Hill paused before telling the court his current state of health was “good”.
The jury previously heard of three incidents in 2014, a year before the crash, when there were concerns over Hill’s flying, according to the prosecution.
But some witnesses described him as “safety conscious” and an “absolute gentleman”.
During a practice display for the Duxford airshow in Cambridgeshire, Hill flew over the crowd line, prosecutors said. The jury were also told he twice flew over the M11 much lower than permitted – but this assertion was later withdrawn.
Tom Kark QC, prosecuting, said he had flown over the Duxford Museum – which was regarded as a “serious infringement”.
Giving evidence, Hill said he had no concerns about the manner in which he was flying, adding: “I was in total control”.
Relatives of the crash victims and Hill’s family sat in the packed courtroom quietly listening to his evidence.
Hill said he believed he is “known” for his planning and preparation before displays – drawing his routines in diagrams before walking through the manoeuvres.
Footage from another airshow at Shannon Airport, Co Clare, Ireland, just over a month before the crash was shown to the jury in which Hill carried out the same “bent loop” stunt in the same aircraft without issue.
Hill claims to have experienced “cognitive impairment” shortly before the crash and does not remember what happened.
He was thrown from the burning plane and told medics he “blacked out in the air” after he was found with blood on his face lying in undergrowth beside the cockpit.
The trained Royal Air Force instructor, who was a British Airways captain at the time, was taken to hospital with serious injuries and placed into an induced coma.
He had a fractured nose, ribs and part of his lower spine, a collapsed lung, and serious bruising among other injuries.
Hill had passed medical checks before the crash. Tests and scans carried out afterwards did not show any sign of a medical condition – including cognitive impairment – which may have affected his health leading up to the crash, the court heard.
Describing himself in court as an A-grade student, he grew up in Kent where he attended Tonbridge School – the private boarding school which counts Norman Heatley, who turned penicillin into usable medicine, among its alumni.
Telling the court he was “reasonably academic”, Hill was then able to enroll at Cambridge University without taking the entrance exam and studied at Christ’s College. He began studying engineering and then transferred to computer science, graduating with an honours degree in 1985.
He went straight into the RAF, winning a competition when flying a Jet Provost and was ranked a top performing student so was selected – or as he called it “creamed off the top” – to become an instructor.
Training in combat, he took part in active service for a month in the 1990s monitoring no-fly zones in northern Iraq.
Hill also started to fly a Harrier – capable of vertical take-off and landing – and won an award for his work and ideas on improving aircraft safety procedures, the court heard.
Then he went into civil aviation, becoming a commercial pilot starting with Virgin Atlantic before moving to British Airways and progressing to the most senior position of captain.
The trial continues.