11 feared dead in UK Shoreham airshow crash

Emergency services and crash investigation officers work at the site where a Hawker Hunter fighter jet crashed onto the A27 road at Shoreham near Brighton, Britain August 23, 2015. © Luke MacGregor
Three people who were killed on the road in UK's West Sussex after a fighter jet plummeted onto it have been identified. Seven people are confirmed to have died in the accident at the Shoreham Airshow on Saturday, but reports have emerged the number has risen to 11.

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Eleven people were "highly likely" to have died after a Hawker Hunter plane crashed on the road, when it failed to perform a maneuver at the airshow, police said. Authorities have warned more bodies may be found, while specialists were struggling to identify the victims of the horrifying crash.

"We have now identified 11 people who we are treating as highly likely to have died in this tragedy," Steve Barry, second in command of the local Sussex Police, said at a press conference on Sunday, as quoted by AFP. The death toll could rise again, the officer added.

At least four cars including a wedding limousine were hit on the busy A27 highway. Three British men: a 24-years old gym instructor and two professional footballers, both in their early twenties, were identified as the first victims of the crash.

Personal trainer Matt Jones was driving home in his BMW 3 Series Coupe, and goalkeeper Matt Grimstone and midfielder Jacob Schilt, both 23, were on their way to play a non-league game. They were killed as they passed near the site of the airshow at Brighton Airport. The jet crashed on top of them resulting in a ball of flames.

A wedding Daimler limousine could also be seen with its roof ripped off in the aftermath of the crash. The hire car was reportedly on its way to pick up a bride. While the driver's fate is yet unknown, the couple who were due to have the vintage limo at their wedding have released a statement saying "It's a shock - we only found out through social media - our thoughts are with family," as cited by the Telegraph.

A number of other vehicles were destroyed on the A27 road when they were engulfed in flames, and also two cyclists are feared to have died. The impact of the crash was so bad, emergency services have said it's difficult to identify the victims.

Police believe all those who "lost their lives were on the road," with no airshow spectators hurt in the accident. During an attempted loop, the jet smashed into busy A27 traffic. Highly inflammable aviation fuel was sprayed all over the cars, setting them on fire. Thousands of Shoreham Airshow visitors who were less than a kilometer away witnessed the horror.

The vintage fighter jet was piloted by 51-year-old Andy Hill, who was a British Airways captain, British media reported. During the ill-fated loop the loop, the pilot seemed to desperately attempt to pull up, but lost control. He was said to have been miraculously pulled from the burning wreckage and flown by air ambulance to hospital, where he is still "fighting for his life."

"He is a highly experienced pilot, well-known and well-loved. He is highly professional and it is totally unusual for this to happen. He was a Harrier pilot in the Air Force. They are the top RAF (Royal Air Force) pilots – the best of the best," David Wildridge, who had flown at the same airshow earlier in the display, told the Telegraph.

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The plane Andy Hill was flying belonged to a wealthy British businessman. Before he purchased the 60-year old aircraft, several other private owners had owned the jet. The ill-fated Hawker Hunter was built for the Royal Air Force, having made its first flight in the mid 1950s in the UK. It was then sent to Germany. Withdrawn from official use in the 1990s, the aircraft went to auction.

The crash on Saturday is not the first fatal incident at the Shoreham Airshow. A Hawker Hurricane performed an unplanned barrel-roll maneuver at the show in 2007. The pilot died in the accident. However, authorities have called not to "rush to knee jerk reactions about the safety of airshows."

"This is an airshow that's been going for 26 years, only the second time there's been any serious accident, and the first time that spectators and people on the ground have been affected," Tim Loughton, MP representing Shoreham said, as cited by AP.