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Monday, June 7, 1999 Published at 09:16 GMT 10:16 UK

World: Europe

Top test pilot killed in crash

Killed Graham Wardell was renowned for his icy nerves

One of the world's top test pilots has died after his plane crashed during an air show.

Briton Graham Wardell, 45, was flying an Aerospace Hawk 200 at Bratislava, Slovakia when the single-seater fighter's wing hit the ground and exploded after he failed to pull out of a low turn.

A woman spectator was also killed after being hit by the blast minutes before Mr Wardell's performance was due to end at the Milan Rastislav Stefanik airport. Three other people were injured.

The BBC's Ray Furlong: "A woman who was sunbathing was killed by a piece of wreckage from the plane"
The married father-of-four spent 24 years serving with the RAF before joining BAe in 1996.

In the late 1980s, he became the first non-American to test-fly the F-117 Stealth fighter at a time when most American air force personnel were unaware of the aircraft's existence.

A BAe spokesman said Mr Wardell, who was based at its Warton facility in Lancashire, was involved in standard aerobatic manoeuvres, such as loops and inverted flying, during the display.

'Great shock'

The spectacular moves were well within the pilot's capability, and that of the aircraft, a light fighter version of the popular Hawk trainer, he added.

The Ministry of Defence is investigating.

[ image: The Hawk, seconds before the crash]
The Hawk, seconds before the crash
The BAe spokesman said: "This is obviously a great shock for all of Graham's friends and colleagues at BAe and our sympathies are with his family at this time."

The jet involved in the tragedy was due to take part in the Paris air show next weekend, but BAe said it would not now have any Hawks at the event.

However, the Hawk would be taking part in future air shows.

The spokesman said: "There are almost 800 Hawks in service with 17 customers worldwide and it has an excellent safety record."

BBC's Ray Furlong: The pilot was killed when he plane hit the ground
Mr Wardell was born in Torbay, Devon, in 1954 and had first learned to fly as a boy on an RAF flying scholarship at Torquay grammar school.

After graduating from Southampton University with a degree in aeronautics and astronautics, he joined the RAF in 1972 where he began training on the piston-engined de Havilland Chipmunk and Jet Provost.

His natural ability was soon noticed and Mr Wardell became the first RAF student to fly the first incarnation of the Hawk, the T1.

Top Gun

His career progressed rapidly with tours flying Jaguars and Tornados, before becoming an RAF instructor.

While serving as a Tornado instructor in the late 1980s, Mr Wardell was recruited to be the first foreign pilot to join the F-117 squadron.

[ image: A woman spectator was also killed in the crash]
A woman spectator was also killed in the crash
Having already been offered a place on the US Navy's Top Gun training school, Mr Wardell was singled out for his combination of flying and diplomatic skills.

He spent two years on the F-117 as a senior flight commander and instructor, before returning to be a test pilot at Boscombe Down.

Later he was transferred to work as a strategist on the Eurofighter project but found a desk-bound job unfulfilling.

Throughout his career, he was known for the icy nerves for which test pilots are renowned.

On one occasion, reported in the Daily Telegraph newspaper, he recalled having to eject from a Jaguar he was testing over Germany, with the remark: "The wing came off so I had to step outside."

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