THE pilot of one of the world’s rarest planes was killed yesterday when his wooden aircraft crashed to the ground in front of more than 600 spectators.
The veteran plane, one of only a handful left in the world, had been a show-piece exhibit at the Shuttleworth Collection museum near Biggleswade, Beds.
It was being flown by Mr Roach, who lived in Bedfordshire, as part of a Military Pageant Air Show today at Old Warden Aerodrome.
Onlookers gasped in horror as the aircraft’s engine stalled, sending the plane plummeting into the field below where it shattered into pieces.
Former RAF pilot and Gulf War veteran Mr Roach, who was flying solo, was killed instantly in the accident and organisers immediately cancelled the air show, asking the crowd to leave.
A pathologist will examine his body later and officials from the Air Accident Investigation Bureau have started an inquiry into the tragedy.
Emergency services rushed to the scene of the crash and crews struggled to free Mr Roach’s body from the wreckage.
None of the spectators was injured in the crash, which happened at around 9.45am.
A spokesman for the Air Accident Investigation Branch confirmed that a team had been sent to the airfield to look into what had caused the crash.
The de Havilland Humming Bird, powered by a motorcycle engine, was built in the early 1920s. Only 15 were ever made.
After a prototype was shown off in October 1923, the Air Ministry ordered eight Humming Birds to be used as communications and training aircraft for the RAF.
Three others were exported to Australia, and one was delivered to Prague. One further aircraft was later built for an order from Russia.
The RAF aircraft all made their public debut in 1925, then they were raced against each other at an air show. They were retired in 1927 and all eight were sold as civil aircraft.
Tragic Mr Roche had been the chief pilot for the Shuttleworth Collection but stepped down two years ago, staying on as an occasional pilot.
The former RAF Tornado pilot flew in the first Gulf War before becoming a commercial pilot with British Airways, flying Boeing 767s and 777s.
He had flown with the Collection since 1995.
Spectators had paid £20 for entry into the show, which was to have featured a number of historic planes including the DH53.