Fatal crash pilot could have had heart problem

Stephen McKnight died when the light aircraft he was flying crashed at Ards airfield
Stephen McKnight died when the light aircraft he was flying crashed at Ards airfield

Alocal pilot who died in an airfield crash may have been incapacitated by a heart problem, accident investigators have found.

Stephen McKnight (55) from Culcavy, Hillsborough, was practising circuits in a light aircraft at 10.20am on April 7 last year when the accident happened at Newtownards Airport near Belfast.

A report by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch found the two-seater microlight rolled left shortly after becoming airborne following a touch-and-go landing.

After reaching 80-100 feet its nose dropped and the plane struck grass to the left of the runway.

The aircraft suffered significant damage and Mr McKnight was taken to the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald, where he later died.

A state pathologist for Northern Ireland found he died as a result of chest injuries.

A review of the findings by a Royal Air Force aviation pathologist found he had a “considerably enlarged heart” for a man of his height and weight.

The report added that symptoms related to his heart “could potentially have produced a degree of distraction or incapacitation which could have led to the final manoeuvre”.

It concluded there was “no definite pathological evidence” to prove this happened, but noted it could not be ruled out.

Mr McKnight’s GP signed a five-year medical declaration in October 2013 stating that he was fit to fly. Toxicology tests found no evidence of alcohol or drugs, and the aircraft’s engine showed no signs of a pre-existing defect. Mr McKnight’s instructor described him as “a good, safe and meticulous pilot who took flying seriously”.