Page last updated at 14:58 GMT, Thursday, 13 August 2009 15:58 UK

Biggles story saved crash pilot

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Pilot Vince Hagedorn describes his 'Biggles' escape

A pilot whose light aircraft crashed into a tree on a Dundee golf course has attributed his lucky escape to his love of the Biggles adventure stories.

Vince Hagedorn struck the tree on the 15th hole at the city's Caird Park Golf Course, with his two-seater aeroplane at about 1650 BST on Wednesday.

The 63-year-old told BBC Scotland he copied his landing from a story about the fictional WWI flying ace.

Mr Hagedorn, from Essex, ran low on fuel after coming across bad weather.

The management consultant had been flying from his home in Chelmsford to visit his daughter in Findhorn, in the north of Scotland, who had been coping with a family death.

I feel I'm very lucky to walk away
Vince Hagedorn

The incident at the course, in a large area of parkland on the outskirts of Dundee, sparked a large emergency response, with police, fire service and ambulance staff attending.

Firefighters placed a 44ft ladder against the tree to reach the stranded pilot. Nobody else was injured in the incident.

Mr Hagedorn, who was taken to Dundee's Ninewells Hospital for a medical assessment, said he felt lucky to have escaped with only a minor head injury.

The pilot had been due to land at RAF Kinloss, but had to divert after encountering changeable weather conditions along his route.

Mr Hagedorn said he thought several altitude changes he had to make along the route as a result increased the fuel consumption of his aircraft.

'Enemy lines'

He found himself left with no choice but to make his first emergency landing at the golf course, after a failed attempt to put down at Dundee Airport.

Recalling one of Captain WE Johns' adventures about James Bigglesworth, Mr Hagedorn said: "There's a story where Biggles has his engine shot up over enemy lines.

"He tries to get back to the airfield and doesn't quite make it and ends up with no height over a wood.

plane
Firefighters used a long ladder to reach the stranded pilot

"What he does is he flies into the wood, and, as he flies into the wood, he pulls the stick back to pancake onto trees - and I just did that. I just stalled into the tree."

Mr Hagedorn added: "I feel I'm very lucky to walk away." When asked if he would ever fly again, the pilot added: "If I had a plane, I'd be up there tomorrow."

Mr Hagedorn's wife, Carole, managed to talk to her husband while he was in the ambulance but did not find out the full details of the crash until much later on.

She told the BBC her husband had been interested in planes from an early age and was a massive Biggles fan.

She said: "He's always quoting Biggles. My husband is one of life's adventurers really - cars, bikes, planes, he loves them all.

"Also he's a mathematician and a physicist so he knows how the forces work, and it was obvious that in this particular Biggles book that the physics had been right, and he knew that if he did what it said in the story he had a better chance.

"I think he likes Biggles because Biggles incorporates a lot of the values that he thinks are now lost in society, about loyalty and devotion to a cause and perseverance."

'Avoided a catastrophe'

However, Mrs Hagedorn said she knew the outcome could have been much worse for her husband.

"I'm extremely relieved," she said.

"It really wouldn't have taken very much for this to be a tragedy instead of a tragi-comedy."

Pat Walmsley, of Tayside Fire and Rescue, agreed that the pilot was very lucky.

"When we got to the pilot he was conscious and able to speak," he said, adding: "He did help us a lot with the rescue, putting the harness on for himself and it made it a lot easier for us to get him out of the predicament he found himself in."

Mr Hagedorn was praised by golfers for preventing the plane from coming down on nearby houses and roads.

Greg Martin said: "It's incredibly lucky. The pilot has not just saved his own life, but avoided a catastrophe.

"It is a miracle he is alive. He must have been pretty capable at handling that aeroplane.

"The pilot must have seen what was ahead and kept away from the built-up areas. He deserves credit."

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch has been notified about the incident.



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