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Pilot perished in crash after Downside Abbey in Somerset near-miss

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: August 15, 2014

  • The Air Accidents Investigation Branch can't definitively explain why pilot Glenn Paeckmeyer chose to descend out of low clouds – finding himself on a collision course with the Downside Abbey

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How a pilot came to crash into woods near Downside Abbey in Somerset last year has been revealed in a new report published yesterday.

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch has been investigating what caused the crash on September 30 last year. And, while listing everything that happened up to the collision, it can't definitively explain why pilot Glenn Paeckmeyer chose to descend out of low clouds – finding himself on a collision course with the abbey.

Mr Paeckmeyer, 66, who was an Olympic judge in the shotgun category in 2012, had 10 years of flying experience and had flown his aircraft – a Socata TB10 Tobago – to a farm near Taunton to visit friends. However, instead of leaving on Sunday as planned, the pilot instead made arrangements to fly back to Henlow on Monday.

The AAIB report says despite checking on weather conditions at the farm and his destination at Henlow, it could find no evidence that the pilot had used his own tablet computers or other devices to check what the weather was like en-route.

The investigator suspects Mr Paeckmeyer believed the weather would improve the further east he flew. But the opposite turned out to be true, with low cloud conditions having the qualities of mist or fog.

In Stratton-on-the-Fosse, witnesses said they couldn't see the aircraft but could hear it in the mist, the noise suggesting it was circling.

The report said: "A number of witnesses were working on the roof of Downside Abbey, a neo-Gothic structure with a tower reaching 166ft above ground level.

"These witnesses described the aircraft appearing close by in a wings-level attitude but at very low height, immediately to the north of the abbey and on a track directly towards it.

"Almost as soon as they saw the aircraft, it began an avoiding manoeuvre in which it pitched nose-up and rolled to the right, accompanied by a change in engine note to what sounded like full power.

"The aircraft was reportedly well below the height of the tower, and witnesses believed it avoided the tower by about 30 metres. A unanimous view was that the aircraft would have struck the tower had the pilot not taken avoiding action.

"No-one saw the aircraft after the avoiding manoeuvre, either because it became lost from view behind the building or due to the poor visibility. However, many heard the sound of an impact soon afterwards."

The craft crashed in a partially wooded area on the abbey's grounds. The first 999 call went out at 10.50am. However, Mr Paeckmeyer suffered multiple fatal injuries.

Crash investigators confirmed the craft was in full working order and the pilot wasn't under the influence of drink or drugs and had been conscious.

Their report said despite being able to use navigation charts, the pilot preferred to rely on GPS and maps on his tablet computers. It is almost certain, said the report, that the circling descent was made due to the weather conditions and may have even been an attempt to turn back.

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