“Very likely” Red Arrows pilot was fatigued during fatal crash

An inquiry into the fatal crash of a Red Arrows jet during a simulated emergency landing has found that the pilot was probably “fatigued and distracted” at the time of the accident.

The Hawk T.1A crashed at RAF Valley on Anglesey while simulating an engine failure on the 20th March 2018. Its pilot, 39-year-old Flt. Lt. David Stark, ejected half a second before the crash following the “dramatic realisation that the aircraft would impact the ground,” the inquiry said. However, there was not time for him to warn his passenger, RAF engineer Cpl. Jonathan Bayliss, 41, who died in the accident.

Flt. Lt. Stark was a first year Red Arrows pilot training for the Red 3 role, with Cpl. Bayliss being a member of the ‘Circus’, an elite team of ground crew who travel with the team, usually flying in the display jets. However, the inquiry found that there was “limited justification” for carrying Circus members during the exercise, and recommended that they are only carried on board the aircraft on sorties “directly associated with their primary role.”

The inquiry identified several human factors as a “contributory factors”, including his work routine and possible fatigue. While heavily redacted in parts, the inquiry revealed that Red 3 had five additional duties ranging from Duty Pilot to Officer In Charge of Rations, which the inquiry described as “not difficult but time consuming”. As a result, Flt. Lt. Stark said he did not have enough time to apply as much thought as he would have liked to consider what he had done during sorties, or what he would do next.

The document summarised: “The pilot’s working routine was detrimentally affecting his morale, not allowing him sufficient time for rest, consolidation and affecting his fatigue levels.”

Other contributory factors included the lack of an artificial stall warning on the aircraft and the low altitude at which the exercise had been undertaken, which the pilot unknowingly performed below the officially recommended height.

The Board also said a radio call from Air Traffic Control moments before the accident, asking Flt. Lt. Stark to confirm his landing gear had been extended, may have distracted and disorientated the pilot in the seconds before the crash.

The family of Cpl. Bayliss, who was killed in the accident, said through their solicitor: “Whilst the inquest into Corporal Bayliss’ death is awaited, we welcome the findings of this report, which attaches no blame whatsoever to Jonathan for this tragic accident.

“Today’s report provides a number of recommendations based on learnings from this accident. The family understand that the MOD and RAF have already begun to implement some of these recommendations and hope that they continue to do so in order to avoid further similar tragedies in the future.”

Flt. Lt. Stark suffered major injuries in the accident and was replaced by former Red Arrows pilot Sqn. Ldr. Mike Ling for the 2018 display season.