A PILOT and his passenger died in a light aircraft crash on the Blackdown Hills because airport ground staff were not decisive enough, an inquest heard this week.

Jonathan Mann, aged 69, of Tipton St John, near Exeter, was flying Margaret Costa, aged 74, to the Isles of Scilly when the crash happened in August, 2021.

Mr Mann, an experienced pilot with 21 years of flying behind him, had taken off from from Watchford Farm, near Yarcombe, and was an hour into the flight when the weather deteriorated and he decided to turn back.

But he found himself above the clouds and being unqualified to fly by instruments he could not descend through them.

Mr Mann put out an emergency call via the distress and diversion cell (D&D) which was transferred to Exeter Airport, where the cloud base was too low for him to have landed.

While he waited for assistance, his two-seat Mudry CAP 10B aircraft hit an oak tree on a hill between Bishopswood and Buckland St Mary, killing the pair instantly.

A two-day inquest into the deaths of Mr Mann and Ms Costa, who was from Lancercombe, Devon, was held in Wells this week.

Somerset senior coroner Samantha Marsh concluded the death of Mr Mann, who had previously flown many times to the Scilly Isles, was ‘misadventure’, and Ms Costa’s was ‘accidental’.

Mrs Marsh was critical of ground staff at Exeter Airport, citing a lack of communication, information, and finding a suitable emergency landing site for Mr Mann.

She said during the time his call was being handled it seemed Mr Mann had become ‘spatially disorientated’, leading to the collision with the tree.

Mrs Marsh said: “It appears there was a lack of appropriate identification of those in control and inadequate communication about the suitability of Exeter as a landing option.

“No consideration was given to the fact that there was sufficient fuel to travel further to a more suitable landing place.”

An Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) inquiry had already found the level of support offered after Mr Mann’s distress call was not sufficient.

The AAIB made seven safety recommendations, five to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and two to the Department for Transport (DfT), which will also be addressed by the Military Aviation Authority (MAA).