Retired farmer died after sons bought him vintage plane flight

Retired farmer died in fireball after his three sons bought him a flight in a vintage Mustang fighter plane for his 84th birthday

  • John Marshall, 84, had riden in a US-made Mustang for his 85th birthday present 
  • The pilot said he had between 800-1,000 hours experience flying the aircraft
  • Found to be no mechanical defects with the plane which caused the crash 

A pensioner died in front of his three sons when the plane ride they bought him for his birthday present crashed.

John Marshall, 84, was taken into the air in the US-made Mustang when it turned into a ‘fireball’ and crashed into a field.

The retired farmer suffered horrific injuries and died in the crash while the aircraft’s owner, Maurice Hammond, survived the crash but suffered a broken neck, shoulder, ribs as well as burns.

Retired farmer John Marshall, 84, died in front of his three sons when the US-made plane turned into a ‘fireball’ and crashed into a field

The present had been booked by Mr Marshall’s sons, Robert, Chris and Philip to mark his 85th birthday in October 2016

At an inquest, the jury were shown footage of the plane bouncing back into the air after the hard landing near RAF Hardwick airfield.

The present had been booked by Mr Marshall’s sons, Robert, Chris and Philip to mark his 85th birthday in October 2016. 

His eldest son Robert Marshall, who shot the video, told the hearing: ‘As it came down to land it touched down and I immediately thought, “That was hard”.

‘My next recollection was Chris saying “Run, it’s going to hit us”. It was coming straight at us.’

The scene of the air crash at RAF Hardwick. Maurice Hammond survived the crash but John Marshall, 84, passed away

The front of the plane was destroyed during the ‘hard collision’ with the front of the aircraft

An image of the broken propeller, which came off the Mustang aircraft. It was delivered the Royal New Zealand Air Force in 1945 before going into private ownership in 1958

Part of the wing was badly damaged during the collision. The crash was partially filmed by one of Mr Marshall’s son

The two men ran across to their other brother, Philip, and turned to see the plane attempting to gain altitude before tearing off its wing as it hit the tree.

Mr Marshall added: ‘My immediate thought was “I’ve got to get dad out”. I jumped on the right wing which was covered in oil. I took one look at my dad and knew he was instantly killed.’

Despite receiving assistance, great-grandfather Mr Marshall, of Willoughby Waterleys, Leicestershire, died from severe traumatic head and neck injuries.

Pilot Maurice Hammond had between 800 to 1,000 hours of experience flying the P-51D Mustang

Dog walker Cheryl Griffiths described how the aircraft stopped just 50ft away from her.

She said: ‘I thought “Wow, I am in the right place to see the whole take off”. The engine was roaring – but I was surprised it was not climbing.

‘It started to turn so it was coming straight towards me and I was still thinking, “This is fantastic” and “It’s going to come straight over my head”.’

Mr Hammond, who obtained his private pilot’s licence in 1989, said he had spent 800 to 1,000 hours flying the P-51D Mustang after buying the plane in 1997 and restoring it.

It was built at the end of the Second World War and delivered to the Royal New Zealand Air Force in 1945 before going into private ownership in 1958.

In a written statement in court in Norwich, Mr Hammond said he had no recollection of the crash. He was in a coma after the incident and spent five weeks in hospital afterwards.

He said: ‘I would imagine I was doing everything I could to avoid an accident.’ 

The plane crashed into a tree during one of its heavy landings and took a chunk out of a hedgerow

The Air Accident Investigation Branch found there was no evidence of mechanical failure. 

Mr Hammond, who obtained his private pilot’s licence in 1989, said he had spent 800 to 1,000 hours flying the P-51D Mustang after buying the plane in 1997 and restoring it.

It was built at the end of the Second World War and delivered to the Royal New Zealand Air Force in 1945 before going into private ownership in 1958.

In a written statement, he said he had no recollection of the crash. He was initially in a coma and spent more than five weeks in hospital afterwards.

Emergency services arrived quick at the scene at RAF Hardwick, in Topcroft, but were unable to save John Marshall

‘I would imagine I was doing everything I could to avoid an accident,’ he told the inquest.

In a statement, they said: ‘The evidence presented shows that the pilot did not attempt to compensate for the crosswind… the aircraft left the runway onto a field, hitting a large tree, where a fire/explosion occurred.’

Mr Marshall’s sons declined to comment after the hearing.

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