Page last updated at 18:04 GMT, Thursday, 12 February 2009

Tragic air cadet on first flight

Cousins Katie-Jo Davies and Nikkita Marie Walters [top right] ,Andrew Marsh and Hylton Price (bottom right)
Clockwise, from top left: Katie-Jo Davies, Nikkita Walters, Hylton Price, and Andrew Marsh

The families of two schoolgirl cousins killed when two RAF aircraft collided have spoken of their "devastation".

Katie-Jo Davies, 14, was on her first flight after joining the Air Training Corps just before Christmas.

Fellow cadet Nikkita Walters, 13, who went to the same school, died in the other light aircraft near Porthcawl.

Two pilots who also died on the "air experience" flights were Hylton Price, 63, from Bridgend, and Andrew Marsh, 24, of Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan.

The cousins were both from Evanstown near Gilfach Goch and pupils at Tonyrefail Comprehensive.

It is not known if they were at the controls when the collision took place on Wednesday.

In a statement, their families said: "Words cannot describe how devastated we are by the loss of our girls.

"Nikkita and Katie-Jo were both much loved and will be so sorely missed.

They will be sorely missed and never be forgotten
Elaine Keeble, head teacher

"We are all grieving and would appeal for privacy at this time to come to terms with our loss."

Flt Lt Karen Greenow said Katie-Jo had only joined the Pontypridd squadron of the Air Training Corps (ATC) just before Christmas and had made many friends.

"She was a very happy girl," said Flt Lt Greenow.

"This was her first time flying. She had been issued with her uniform and looked incredibly smart. Her loss has affected us deeply."

Nikkita had been a member of the ATC in Pontypridd since June last year and had just passed her first class cadet examinations.

Flt Lt Greenow said Nikkita was a "pleasure to have on the squadron and a superb cadet".

"She worked hard and readily got involved in squadron duties and events. She liked doing drill and although she was quite shy she had lots of friends. She will be sorely missed".

Both airmen who died were known "cheerful personalities" and their "infectious" enthusiasm for flying, said colleagues.

Tonyrefail Comprehensive School has paid tribute to the cousins who died

Neath-born Flying Officer Hylton Price was a retired wing commander who was part of the RAF voluntary reserves and an experienced instructor.

The Cardiff university graduate was brought up in Swansea and was a former Tornado and Phantom jet pilot. He was married, with no children.

Squadron Leader Peter Kingwill said: "He was a wonderful gentleman, such a lovely guy. His enthusiasm and keenness for flying would have rubbed off on others, particularly youngsters."

Flt Lt Andy Marsh, who had "excellent flying skills", was only promoted last week and was waiting to start advanced fast jet training at Raf Valley.

The Cardiff university law graduate was a keen sportsman, who went by the nickname FOAM, an abbreviation of his former rank, flying officer, and the initials of his name.

Sqn Ldr Steve Stanton, of No.1 Elementary Flying School, RAF Cranwell said Flt Lt Marsh had gone through six months of flying training on the Tutor aircraft in 2007.

Crash scene
Wreckage and debris were strewn across half a mile near Porthcawl

He said: "He excelled on his course and was selected for fast jet training. He was the top student of his course. He stood out and was a natural pilot."

Gp Capt Andy Naismith added: "They were both extremely qualified for the task they were doing yesterday".

He could not comment on how the aircraft collided but said there were "very strict rules" to ensure planes did not fly too close together.

Describing the type of trip the cousins were on, he said: "The air experience flying we provide for these air cadets usually lasts 20-25 minutes.

"They typically take off from an airfield and fly around the local area to give them experience of being airborne."

'Bright and pleasant'

Defence Secretary John Hutton said he was "immensely saddened".

He said: "It is clear that the RAF pilots, Flying Officer Hylton Price and Flight Lieutenant Andrew Marsh, had a great love of the RAF and dedicated their time to sharing it with young cadets like Katie-Jo Davies and Nikkita Walters."

Elaine Keeble, head teacher at their school in Rhondda Cynon Taf, said: "Katie-Jo and Nikkita were bright, pleasant and valued members of our year nine group.

"It is with great regret and sadness that we have lost two young people who have always made such a valuable contribution to school and community life.

"Our thoughts and deepest sympathies are with their families and friends at this very difficult time. They will be sorely missed and never be forgotten."

Rhondda Cynon Taf council leader Russell Roberts, who is a governor at the school, said: "We were shocked and saddened to hear of this devastating tragedy and our deepest sympathies and thoughts at this time are with the friends and family of the two children."

Support is being offered through the school for friends and family.

Councillor Mel Nott, leader of Bridgend council, passed on his condolences and said: "This is an incredibly sad set of circumstances".

The two Grob trainer aircraft had taken off from RAF St Athan, about 20 miles (32km) from the crash scene.

There are three separate investigations into the incident - one by the police, another by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB), and an RAF board of inquiry.

South Wales Police assistant chief constable Colette Paul said she had heard rumours that people had stolen parts of the debris since Wednesday morning's crash.

She said: "I think that would be disgraceful if that was the situation. I would arrest those individuals because I think that's disgraceful.

"I've certainly heard rumours but nothing is confirmed."

The force is appealing for anyone who finds sections of the aircraft to contact them immediately.

Emergency services are yet to recover the victims' bodies from the crash site. It is not yet known when post-mortem examinations will take place.

Anyone who witnessed the incident or has discovered debris is asked to contact South Wales Police on 01656 306102 or 01656 306103.

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