PILOT error caused the death of two British men, including a dentist from March, in a light aircraft crash in Italy.
Kevin Young (54) from Saxon Way, March, and Dudley John Ritchie (81) from Letchworth Garden City, died in the crash at Valle Gulva on June 1, 2008, after their pilot tried to turn in a narrow mountain valley.
Air investigators believe pilot Vittorio Rossetti, who had not filed an official flight plan, failed to gain enough height to navigate a mountain pass. In attempting to reverse his course, the plane stalled and crashed, killing all on board instantly.
Wednesday’s inquest at Huntingdon heard the aircraft was also overloaded. While this wouldn’t have caused the crash, it would have made the aircraft harder to control.
Coroner William Morris heard about the events leading up to the tragic accident that took the lives of the two British men, along with Mr Rossetti (69) and his wife. It was explained that it had taken four years for the hearing to take place due to delays from the Italian authorities.
Mr Young and Mr Ritchie were both keen pilots and Rotarians and members of the International Fellowship of Flying Rotarians (IFFR). They were in northern Italy for the Italian IFFR meeting in Venice. A trip to the aeronautical museum in Trento had also been arranged.
The pair, who co-owned a plane, had been due to fly there themselves, accompanied by Mr Ritchie’s son George. But bad weather over France saw George Ritchie stay at home and they flew to Italy by commercial airline.
Mr Young and Mr Ritchie met Mr and Mrs Rossetti by chance at a IFFR gala dinner and accepted their offer to fly them to Trento, in a mountainous area of Italy, the following day.
The flight to Trento went fine and the orange single engine light aircraft was the first of four aircraft to leave and head back to Venice. However, Mr Rossetti made the fateful decision to go through the mountains rather than take a slightly longer route across the North Italian Plain.
Mr Rossetti did not file an official flight plan, but it is believed he intended to head through the Passo Borcola. Italian investigators determined the aircraft should have been able to clear the pass, even though the plane was 88kg over the weight limit. This was backed up by UK investigator Andrew Blackie, who gave evidence at the inquest.
But when Mr Rossetti got to the pass, he was not high enough to get over, so he attempted to turn around and go back. The valley was only 500 metres across at the end and he was forced to bank sharply to make the turn.
Mr Blackie said: “The pilot ran out of options. The valley was too narrow to turn. It was a very high-risk place to be. But I can’t see anything except the choice of the pilot to put the plane there.”
The aircraft stalled and crashed into the side of the valley. The fuel in the tanks exploded, with the ferocious flames destroying any paperwork that would have been on board.
It was determined that Mr Young died of “polytrauma due to the aircraft crashing with explosion of the vehicle on the ground” and Mr Ritchie died of multiple traumatic injuries.
In summing up, Mr Morris said he had to consider a short form verdict of unlawful killing, in which he would examine whether there had been gross negligence on the part of the pilot.
However, he chose to give a narrative verdict and said: “Dudley John Ritchie and Kevin Young were killed when the aircraft in which they were travelling as passengers on June 1, 2008 crashed into the mountainside at Valle Gulva, near Passo Borcola, Italy, in circumstances where the aircraft was overloaded and being flown without a proper flight plan.”
Mr Ritchie was held in high regard and George Ritchie received messages of condolence from across the world after his father’s death. A memorial to the accident victims stands in the churchyard on the summit of Passo Borcola.
After the inquest, George Ritchie said: “We are grateful to the coroner, to the representatives of the Air Accident Investigation Board, and to our lawyer, Tim Scorer for their help, kindness and support through the inquest process.
“We were saddened to hear the full circumstances of what happened on 1 June 2008, which remind us, perhaps, that flying is not inherently dangerous, but is unforgiving of mistakes and failure to follow the correct procedures.
“Both families still feel a profound sense of loss, but are proud of the lasting legacies that John and Kevin have left to their families, in their communities and around the world.”
Belinda Banks Young, the widow of Kevin Young, also paid tribute to her husband in a statement read by Mr Morris.
The son of Chinese immigrants, Mr Young grew up in New Zealand. He funded himself through university and got a degree in dentistry. A stint of travelling saw him come to the UK, where he started working to fund further exploration.
However, business success saw him stay in England, where he met the dental nurse who would later become his wife. They have two children, Dominic (13) and Elisha (15).
As well as being a Rotarian, Mr Young was a member of March Evangelical Church and a passionate charity worker. He was very involved in charity Young Smiles for Romania.