During take-off from Dunsfold Aerodrome at 4.15 p.m. yesterday, a Hawker Siddeley 125 Executive Jet, flown by Group Captain Cunningham, experienced a loss of engine power and subsequently crashed after over-running the end of the runway. It crossed the adjacent road, striking a car in the process, and killed all six of the car's occupants. I am sure that the House will join me in expressing sympathy to the families and relatives of those who were killed. The occupants of the aircraft, who included a Chinese delegation to the United Kingdom, escaped serious injury.
It has been reported that a flock of birds flew into the area near the runway during the take-off. A team of investigators from the Accidents Investigation Branch has already started a preliminary investigation and will report to the Chief Inspector of Accidents in due course.
Will the Secretary of State accept that everyone in the House will wish to be associated with the sympathy that he expressed to the relatives of those who were so tragically killed, and also to congratulate those who miraculously escaped from the aircraft? Does he agree that, over and above the immediate cause of the crash, the incident raises the broader issue of safety at an aerodrome of this kind, where a great deal of low flying by jet aircraft takes place in an area which, although rural, is quite densely populated, bearing in mind especially that there is a village at the other end of the runway? Will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that, in addition to any inquiries into the cause of the accident, he will examine the wider issue of safety in flight operations from this aerodrome?
I am very well aware, of course, that this tragedy occurred in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, and I willingly echo both his sentiments—that is to say, our great sense of this tragedy and our sympathy for all those concerned, as well as our sense of a remarkable escape for those who were in the aeroplane and involved in the crash. I assure the hon. Gentleman that, once we have the report of the chief inspector into the actual cause of the accident, we shall be very willing to look further into the broader questions of the safety of the aerodrome.
Yes, Sir. This problem of birds at airports is by no means a new one in the context of air safety. I am advised that at Dunsfold there are sophisticated systems for dealing with this general problem. But, obviously, this will have to be examined during the course of the investigations.