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Pilot and bystander killed in airshow crash

A top British test pilot and father of three young sons was killed Sunday, June 6 when his aircraft crashed during an air show at Milan Rastislav Stefanik airport in Bratislava. A 35-year-old woman watching the show from a restricted area on the airfield was also killed.
The crash took place at 12:45 on the second day of the fifth international SIAD '99 air show, sponsored by the Slovak Ministry of Defence. Fifteen countries, including Slovakia, flew a variety of acrobatic manoeuvres during the show.
Pilot Graham Wardell, 45, died instantly when he failed to pull his British Aerospace Hawk 200 out of a low turn minutes before the end of his performance. The plane hit the ground and exploded, transforming into a ball of fire which skipped along the ground several times and finally roared to a halt 200 meters from the place of the first impact, SIAD director Lt General Stefan Gombak said.


Fragments of the crashed Aerospace Hawk littered the Bratislava air field.
photo: TASR

A top British test pilot and father of three young sons was killed Sunday, June 6 when his aircraft crashed during an air show at Milan Rastislav Stefanik airport in Bratislava. A 35-year-old woman watching the show from a restricted area on the airfield was also killed.

The crash took place at 12:45 on the second day of the fifth international SIAD '99 air show, sponsored by the Slovak Ministry of Defence. Fifteen countries, including Slovakia, flew a variety of acrobatic manoeuvres during the show.

Pilot Graham Wardell, 45, died instantly when he failed to pull his British Aerospace Hawk 200 out of a low turn minutes before the end of his performance. The plane hit the ground and exploded, transforming into a ball of fire which skipped along the ground several times and finally roared to a halt 200 meters from the place of the first impact, SIAD director Lt General Stefan Gombak said.

Fragments of metal flew off the burning plane, hitting the head of a 35-year-old woman who had climbed onto a storage shed in a restricted area of the airport to get a better view. Four other spectators in the area were also wounded by fragments and given first aid at the scene.

"(The by-stander injuries) happened in the so called safety area which was closed for visitors," Gombak said. "I asked people on TV and the radio not to enter into this prohibited area. Unfortunately, they were there and because of that what happened happened," he said.

The accident is being investigated by Slovak military authorities, Slovak police, and British investigators, Gombak said. At press time, the cause of the crash had not yet been determined. The name of the fatally wounded spectator was also not released.

According to a biography published by the London Telegraph after the accident, Wardell was regarded as one of his country's leading test pilots. He spent 24 years serving with the Royal Air Force before becoming a pilot for British Aerospace in 1996.

Mr Wardell was born in Torbay, Devon, in 1954. After graduating from Southampton University with a degree in aeronautics and astronautics, he joined the RAF in 1972, The Telegraph reported.

His talent soon set him apart, and Wardell became the first RAF student to fly the first incarnation of the Hawk, the T1. His career progressed rapidly, with tours flying Jaguars and Tornados before becoming an RAF instructor, and later, a test pilot. He gained fame in the late '80's when he became the first non-American to test-pilot the F-117 Steath fighter

A British Aerospace spokesman told The Telegraph that Wardell's display June 7 involved standard aerobatic manoeuvres, such as loops and inverted flying. He said: "None of the moves would have been beyond the capability of Graham or the aircraft."

Despite the accident, the air show resumed after an hour delay. A digital video-sequence of the accident was broadcasted on the Slovak television evening news on Slovak televsion Sunday night.

Compiled from press reports

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