Former RAF pilot told ‘jet was broken’ days before fatal crash

David Ashley
David Ashley

A former RAF pilot killed ejecting from a military jet over Italian Alps was told the plane was “broken” days before the tragedy, his widow has revealed.

David Ashley, from Poole, Dorset, died while carrying out a familiarisation flight on an M346 Fighter Attack aircraft when it crashed on Monte Legnone, Lombardy, on March 16.

The 49-year-old father of two had been employed as an instructor to train other pilots to fly the plane and was involved in his first flight in the jet.

Ashley, who was flying with a flight commander, lost control as the jet made a second loop.

According to lawyers representing Ashley’s family, Giampaolo Goattin, who survived the crash, made the order to eject from the aircraft.

Now Heather Ashley, his widow, is suing the manufacturer, Leonardo SpA, for compensation of more than £1 million through the High Court.

‘Aircraft sold to Turkmenistan’

Rachael Griffin, the Dorset coroner, told the Bournemouth hearing that Ashley had received a voicemail message from Mr Goattin on March 8 saying the flight had been postponed until March 16 because the “jet is broken”.

The inquest was told it had been reported that the aircraft involved in the crash had been sold to the Turkmen Air Force and had been returned to Italy for modifications, but it was not clear whether these alterations had been made.

The coroner said that the public prosecutor’s office was investigating the crash with an initial report expected next March, with further legal proceedings expected to follow.

She said this would impact on when a full inquest could be heard into Ashley’s death, but her office would continue its own investigations.

Ms Griffin ordered legal representatives from Leonardo to provide confirmation that it had carried out investigations to ensure the jet was safe.

Questions over aircraft’s suitability

James Healy-Pratt, the lawyer representing Ashley’s family, told the hearing that a similar model of the jet, the M-346AJT, had been flown in the UK since the accident.

He added that the £25 million aircraft had been marketed at the Farnborough Airshow where Boris Johnson was pictured with Leonardo’s chief executive.

Mr Healy-Pratt said: “It’s close to Mrs Ashley’s heart for Leonardo to answer why is this aircraft still flying when they haven’t even carried out an investigation.”

Miranda Hill, representing Leonardo, said that an investigation had commenced but it was unable to provide full details because of confidentiality requirements of the Italian public investigation.

Ms Griffin said: “We need reassurance these are safe aircraft to be continued to be used and tests have been taken. I do not know if this is a pilot error or plane malfunction or both.”

Ms Griffin adjourned the hearing for a further pre-inquest review to be held on Feb 10 2023.