Pilot's body may never be recovered from crashed plane, inquest hears

The body of a pilot whose plane crashed into the Irish Sea last year may never be recovered.

Tuesday, 9th August 2016, 10:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 9th August 2016, 12:24 pm
A massive search was launched after the plane went missing last December

Ian Stirling’s remains are thought to be inside the cockpit of his Rockwell Commander light aircraft, which is buried under several tonnes of sand off the coast of Blackpool, the 73-year-old’s inquest was told.

The hearing, held at the town hall, was told one salvage operation had already failed to recover the aircraft or Mr Stirling’s body, and that further attempts would prove costly and probably futile.

Recording a verdict of accidental death, coroner Alan Wilson said the businessman’s family had ‘taken the decision that they would prefer Mr Stirling to remain in the plane’.

Mr Stirling's Rockwell Commander will remain buried in sand, around 2.2 miles off Starr Gate

The inquest came weeks after the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) published its report into the crash, which happened shortly after 9am on Thursday, December 3 on route to the resort from the Isle of Man.

Mr Stirling, who was not qualified to fly using only his instruments, is thought to have crashed into the water around 2.2 miles off Starr Gate after becoming disorientated during stormy weather.

Some 45 square miles of water were scoured by lifeboats and helicopters, and a fuel slick was spotted hours later alongside some debris.

Several personal items and further wreckage washed up on the beach in the following days and weeks, but Storm Desmond, and a prolonged period of bad weather meant the plane wasn’t found until January 19. It remains upside down in 10m of water, filled with and covered by sand, around half a mile from where rescuers had focused their initial search.

The emergency services were praised by coroner Alan Wilson for their 'exemplary' conduct during the search and subsequent investigation

The AAIB said the cockpit was likely breached when the plane crashed at a dangerously low speed and acute angle — possibly upside down — but Mr Stirling’s son Andrew, when asked whether his father may have neglected to fasten his seatbelt, told the court: “My father was a perfectionist and meticulous, so the answer would be no.”

Mr Wilson said it was unusual to hold an inquest without a body, and could not offer a cause of death, but said he was satisfied Glasgow-born Mr Stirling, of Alexander Drive, Douglas, remained inside the aircraft.

He also said the emergency services’ conduct throughout ‘what was an unusual set of circumstances’ was ‘exemplary’.

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Mr Stirling's Rockwell Commander will remain buried in sand, around 2.2 miles off Starr Gate
The emergency services were praised by coroner Alan Wilson for their 'exemplary' conduct during the search and subsequent investigation