Readers of my previous blog on airshow photography will know that I enjoy photographing aviation subjects and always try and get to an airshow each year. This year I was set to go to the Airbourne airshow at Eastbourne but bad weather on the day I was going led to the cancellation of all flying. The excellent Dunsfold airshow which I attended last year was out as I wasn't free to go that weekend. This really only left the annual airshow at Shoreham-on-Sea in my area. This became a must see event when it was announced that XH588 -the last flying Vulcan bomber would be displaying on Saturday 22. This is the last year of flying for the Vulcan and, although I have seen it twice before, I was delighted to have the opportunity for one last chance to see it in the sky.
The weather was perfect both as a spectator and as a photographer. Plenty of sunshine and blue skies -ideal for airshow photography. Late morning saw a number of aerobatic displays including Tiger Moths and the RAF parachute team The Falcons. The real action of the day got going just after 1.15pm with the arrival of the Hawker Hunter jet fighter. This fifties vintage jet is a favourite of mine having seen a number of Hunter displays at various airshows. A low level high speed run down the display line was followed by a steep climb and loop to bring it back to the display area. Because of my position this is where I lost sight of it behind the grandstand area as I poised my camera to capture the return run.
The rest is tragic history which has made the news around the world as the Hunter lost altitude before crashing on the busy A27 road next to the airfield. I sensed something was wrong when the aircraft hadn't reappeared as expected. There was then the sounds of gasps followed by a loud explosion. I moved my position a few feet in time to see a large fireball go up followed by plumes of thick black smoke. At this point the thousands of spectators simply fell very quite. The Hunter had been only seconds into its display and there was a sense of disbelief and shock at what had just happened.
Initially, most thoughts were for the fate of the pilot but it was only later that the full horror of what had happened emerged as the death toll from the A27 road reached eleven with the pilot (still) in critical condition. Needless to say, the rest of the airshow was cancelled. The one exception was the Vulcan. About an hour after the crash XH588 made one very slow and very quite flypast over the scene in what was a very moving and poignant tribute to those lost in the crash. That, sadly, will be my last memory of seeing the Vulcan in flight.
It truly was an appalling experience and not one I would want to repeat. Far worse, of course, for friends and family of those that died. You always have an awareness at airshows that something could go wrong but, in reality, never actually expect it to happen. An investigation into the crash is underway and currently in the UK all Hawker Hunters are grounded with restrictions placed on displays by other vintage jets.
Will I still visit and photograph airshows? Certainly - I cannot imagine I'm likely to witness something like this again. Regards, David.
(For clarity, the Hunter and Vulcan images are from my archives and not from this event).