Derbyshire pilot's lucky escape after plane falls over cliff and into the sea

Bob Hitchcock with Withernsea RNLI crewmen Luke Newton and Daniel Lythe who were part of the crew that launched, and Deputy Launch Authority John Hartland. Photo - RNLI/Withernsea

Bob Hitchcock with Withernsea RNLI crewmen Luke Newton and Daniel Lythe who were part of the crew that launched, and Deputy Launch Authority John Hartland. Photo - RNLI/Withernsea

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A Derbyshire pilot had a lucky escape when his plane went off the edge of a runway, over the cliff and into the sea.

The details of the incident, which occurred last August in Withernsea, East Yorkshire, are documented in a report which has just been published by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch.

Pilot Robert Hitchcock activated his Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) but was able to escape from the plane with only minor injuries and make his way up the cliff to a nearby house, before being transferred to hospital.

The experienced pilot had landed at Hollym Airfield on four previous occasions, the report states, so the owner granted him permission to land on the day of the incident, August 10, without a detailed briefing.

Mr Hitchcock, who had 918 hours of flying experience, decided to land on Runway 32, which he had last used four years before and he reported that he flew a normal approach and landing. However, things then went wrong.

The report states: "During the landing roll he heard a noise, possibly from the right side of the aircraft, and it slewed to the right.

"He attempted to control the aircraft and apply braking, resulting in the aircraft rolling out on the extreme right side of the runway.

"As the aircraft slowed, the tailwheel went over the edge of the cliff and, at low speed, the aircraft fell tail-fist off the cliff into the sea."

A few days after the accident, Mr Hitchcock visited the Withernsea Lifeboat crew who had been tasked to start looking for him after his PLB signal was picked up near to where the plane crashed.

Speaking at the time he said: "It was the most shocking experience of my life. I have a huge number of flying hours under my belt and I hope I never have to experience anything like it again. I have a big respect to all RNLI volunteers, especially those who dropped everything to come and help me."

And Daniel Lythe, one of the Withernsea RNLI volunteer crew who launched to his aid, said: "By telling us the story of what went wrong, it’s amazing that Bob is still here to be able to visit us.

"We are all pleased that he is ok especially considering it was a horrible day with an unrelenting North Sea.

"It was nice for Bob to take the time out to come and visit us, and thank us. As a volunteer, that ‘thank you’ makes everything we do worthwhile."