Tributes have been poured in for two British pilots who died this weekend when their plane crashed over the English Channel.
Father-of-ones Lee Rogers and his ‘best friend’ Brian Statham were flying from Wellesbourne Mountford Airfield, near Stratford-upon-Avon, to Le Tourquet in France on Saturday morning when their plane lost contact around 9:02 am.
The pair are believed to have experienced excessive weather over the channel, but search and rescue teams have yet to find any significant clues or wreckage.
An investigation is currently being conducted by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB).
In a moving tribute, Lee’s family described him as a “loving husband” and “devoted family man.”
They said they had “no choice” but to assume he had died after the search ended Sunday night.
Meanwhile, Brian’s family begged beachgoers in northern France to look out for debris or personal belongings that “could lock them up.”
The doomed flight was part of a trip planned by the South Warwickshire Flying School, which included several other aircraft.
‘Larger-than-life’ Lee Rogers (pictured) and his ‘best friend’ Brian Statham were flying Saturday morning from Wellesbourne Mountford Airfield, near Stratford-upon-Avon, to Le Tourquet in France when their plane lost contact around 09:02 ben
Lee’s family said: ‘Despite intensive British and French search and rescue operations, the search was called off on Sunday evening (April 3).
“Therefore, we have no choice but to assume that Lee has passed away.
“Anyone who knew Lee will attest to a larger-than-life character who lived life to the fullest, a man of big heart and boundless generosity.
‘A skilled and enthusiastic pilot, a lover of all kinds of fast and loud machines, which also included a newfound love for sailing.
“He will leave a big wake and will be greatly missed – not only by his family, but also by his legion of friends and colleagues.”
They said Lee would always be a “legendary figure in the IT world and the Warwickshire community,” most of whom “will tell a few humorous stories about him.”
They added: ‘Not only a successful entrepreneur, known for his principled and uncompromising code of ethics, Lee was also a kindhearted supporter of several charities…
“But first and foremost, Lee was a family man. Sarah has been married to Lee for eight years and they have been happy for many years.
Brian’s family begged beachgoers in northern France to look out for debris that “could seal them off.” (Photo: Brian Statham)
“Not just a great marriage, but great partners who shared real adventures.
“Ellie, Lee’s daughter, and the apple of his eye was his greatest joy. Lee had a daily story to tell about his little girl, another larger-than-life character who mirrors her parents in the best of ways.
“It’s not fair that Ellie has to divorce her father so young, or that Sarah is robbed of her husband way before his time, or that Lee’s parents and sister lose a son and brother. Life isn’t fair, but few leave a legacy like Lee, even though they had a hundred lives.”
The flying school had announced Saturday’s trip to France as a ‘Club Fly-Out to Le Touquet’.
The British Coast Guard originally launched an operation supported by French aircraft and boats, including the tug Abeille-Languedoc (Languedoc Bee), which was chartered by the French Navy.
Flight records show that the Piper PA-28R-200 Cherokee Arrow II – built in 1976 – took off from Wellesbourne at 07:56 on Saturday and disappeared from radar over the Channel at 09:02.
Meanwhile, Brian’s family said: “We are deeply saddened to announce that Brian and his copilot Lee Rogers never made it to Le Touquet.
The Piper PA-28 was in a group of planes bound for the seaside town of Le Touquet in northern France Saturday morning (file image, Piper PA-28)
As skilled pilots, with more than 20 years of flying experience combined, it was horrifying news to learn that their aircraft (a Piper PA-28R reg G-EGVA) was reported missing over the English Channel on Saturday (April 2) around the noon. †
“The French and English coastguards spent more than two days searching for traces of wreckage, bodies or clues to help them find out what happened to the two pilots who left friends, families and colleagues behind.
“At this point, the families would like to thank the French and English coastguards for their time, hard work and dedication at sea, working tirelessly to try and find any evidence, wreckage or clues as to what happened.
‘On Thursday 7 April, Brian’s flight bag was found from the plane and kindly handed in by a tourist on the beach of Le Touquet. This has been vital evidence to help us understand what happened on their last flight.
“We are extremely grateful for this kind and helpful act. We, the families of the missing pilots, now want to ask for help.
‘If you live on the north coast of France or the south coast of England and like to spend time on the beach, or near the English Channel, be vigilant about any kind of aircraft waste, clothing and personal items.
“If you see something, pick it up and give it to the local authorities. In both photos, Brian is wearing some of the clothes he had on his last flight.
“Your help with this could provide comfort and closure to the families and enable us to begin the grieving process.
“As of this week, our loved ones are missing and we can’t even think about a funeral.”
The Piper aircraft has been in production since 1960 and during that time several models have been involved in a number of high profile accidents.
In August 1972, Prince William of Gloucester, the Queen’s nephew, was killed with his copilot in a Piper Cherokee Arrow after crashing in an air race while taking off from Halfpenny Green, near Wolverhampton.