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Pilot Found Guilty after Aviation Expert Witness Testimony

Following compelling aviation expert witness testimony, a UK pilot was found guilty this year of violating aviation laws after overloading his aircraft and crashing it, causing injury to three of his passengers.

Fifty-two-year-old Robert Murgatroyd was sentenced to three and a half years imprisonment for committing a range of offences under the Air Navigation Order (ANO) 2016 and the Civil Aviation (Insurance) Regulations after a trial at Manchester Crown Court.

Mr Murgatroyd had his own private licence and flew a Piper A-28 (a Piper Cherokee). On 9 September 2017, he charged a group of birdwatchers £500 each to fly them from the Barton aerodrome in Manchester to the Isle of Barra in Scotland.

Just a few moments after taking off, however, he crash-landed into a potato field 150 metres from the M62 motorway.

The Piper Cherokee crashed into a potato field in Manchester. Photo source: BBC News.

Mr Murgatroyd broke his nose, one passenger cut his hand, another suffered whiplash and cracked his ribs and another suffered a serious cut to the head with severe rib bruising.

Aviation expert witness testimony: a “grossly negligent” pilot

As discussed in a previous post, aviation expert witnesses play a critical role in trials involving air accidents.

In an aviation expert witness testimony for the Crown Prosecutor, the pilot was portrayed as “grossly negligent”. The expert said Mr Murgatroyd failed in his responsibilities as pilot in command.

An investigation into the crash had been conducted by the UK Civil Aviation Authority and Greater Manchester Police’s Serious Collision Investigation Unit. They found that his aircraft was 426lbs (193.23 kg) over the maximum take-off weight of 2150lbs (975.22 kg). This was due to the size of the people on board, the luggage and excess fuel.

Mr Murgatroyd was charged with seven offences, and found guilty of all of them. Some of them included recklessly endangering the safety of an aircraft (and of persons), conducting a public transport flight without an Air Operator Certificate, flying outside flight manual limitations, flying without insurance and flying without the aircraft flight manual.

Mr Murgatroyd had a history of irresponsible aviation practice. He had been prosecuted in 2014 after a Piper PA plane he owned crashed in the Swiss Alps. The plane was not airworthy, and the crash killed both the pilot and the passenger.  Mr Murgatroyd was fined £333.

Alison Slater, a CAA official, noted that the 2017 incident was “very serious” and it “could have ended with fatalities”. Mr Murgatroyd displayed “a serious disregard for the safety of his passengers and the public”.

The aviation expert witnesses in the trial presented evidence on aeronautical theory, flying standards and the mechanical condition of the Piper Cherokee.

In Australia, Avlaw Aviation Consulting offer a specialist aviation expert witness service. We have relationships with law firms and aviation experts who prepare high-quality opinions for both civil and criminal matters. Contact us if you need an expert for your legal matter.