A dream flight bought as a 35th birthday present ended in tragedy for a Midland animator when the pilot suffered a fit and crashed into the Pacific Ocean.
The pilot had a history of epileptic seizures and had been stripped of his commercial licence for a string of breaches of aviation rules, a coroner heard.
Ian Lovell, of Shifnal, was on a ‘joy flight’ from Moreton Bay in Queensland, Australia bought as a present by his girlfriend, when the plane crashed on October 31, 2008.
The Civil Aviation Safety Authority knew pilot Barry Hempel had been stripped of his licence but chose to ignore the concerns of trained paramedics by allowing him to keep a private pilot’s licence.
Mr Lovell’s mother, Lynn, said the coroner’s report had brought closure after five years of campaigning to find out what had happened, and she wanted to see his recommendation for a mandatory register of pilots brought in as soon as possible so all conditions on licences were public.
She said: “It’s something that should never, ever have happened. Something has got to happen, this can’t happen to another family.”
Queensland Coroner John Hutton, in his report into Mr Lovell’s death, said: “The Queensland Ambulance Service report ought to have put CASA on red alert as to Barry Hempel’s ability to fly. It is unbelievable that CASA did not act.
“It is also unbelievable that when Dr (Ian) Maxwell was briefed to assess Barry Hempel, a copy of this report was never provided to him, nor was he advised as to the admissions as to two previous seizures.
“During the inquest it became obvious that CASA medical officers were cavalier in respect to the QAS reports and CASA medical officers chose to disregard the observations of trained paramedics.”
The coroner decided that the evidence indicated that Mr Hempel had suffered an epileptic fit and lost control of the aircraft.
Medical evidence showed that he died from injuries caused by the impact itself but had not braced himself before hitting the water, suggesting he was unconscious.
The pilot had also not reported any problem to air traffic control, although the inquest heard that Mr Lovell had accidentally transmitted a message in which he was heard to ask, in an ‘extremely alarmed state’: “Oh my god, what are you doing? Put it up (or put it on).”
Mrs Lovell, from Barn Road, Shifnal, said the sense of loss the family felt would never go. Her son, a former Shifnal Primary and Idsall School pupil, was in Australia following his dream of combining travel with his work as a computer game animator. She said: “You look at all the things that don’t happen. It’s all those things we were looking forward to that will never happen.”
Mr Lovell had been in Australia for four years and had just completed his most high-profile project, working for Chrome Industries on the Star Wars computer game.
It was a dream project for the Star Wars fanatic, who was so obsessed with the film series that in 1999 he flew to America rather than wait for The Phantom Menace to be released in the UK.
Mr Lovell’s family and Australian girlfriend Samantha Hare have campaigned throughout the five years since his death for a full investigation into why pilot Hempel was allowed to fly.
“It was Sam and her family that ploughed through everything and contacted MPs and tried to get things moving,” said Mrs Lovell. “Hempel had no regard for anybody. He was a maverick, a cowboy and a liar, everything you wouldn’t want to know in a person.
“Now they have to be seen to be doing something. Something has got to happen, this can’t happen to another family. Sam bought the ticket along with Ian’s friend, they thought it would be something he would like to do.
Mrs Lovell said: “Ian loved life, loved his friends and family and was passionate about people enjoying life. He wasn’t a daredevil. He knew that Sam had researched the flight. He didn’t go into things lightly.
“The register is the one thing that really needs chasing up. Sam will pursue that and make sure something is being done. She is angry at CASA. We are angry at CASA.”