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Families desperate for clues about how Lee Rogers and Brian Statham crashed into English Channel

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The families of two men whose light aircraft crashed into the English Channel have paid tribute to them as they desperately seek answers to why the accident happened.

Pilot Brian Statham and co-pilot Lee Rogers were flying in a single-engine Piper PA-28 from Wellesbourne Mountford Airfield to Le Touquet in France on Saturday, 2nd April, when the plane lost contact before crashing into the English Channel. The plane's last known position was 25 miles off Dungeness. The coastguard were alerted just after 10.30am.

This trip was part of a group fly out with the South Warwickshire Flying School, which included several other aircraft.

An early investigation has pointed to an April snowstorm in the middle of the Channel on Saturday morning. Prior to that the conditions had been bright and sunny.

A French official said: “All of the planes from England were confronted with a very large cloud of snow in freezing cold weather.”

Lee Rogers (56047158)
Lee Rogers (56047158)

Despite intensive British and French search and rescue operations, the search was called off in the evening of Sunday, 3rd April.

Last Thursday, 7th April, Brian’s flight bag was found washed ashore on the French coast and the families are hoping that this and other discovered items may help answer questions about what happened.

Appealing to the public to help with the search for further clues that might help investigators, Brian's family said: “A kindly tourist handed Brian’s bag in after finding it on the beach at Le Touquet. This has been vital evidence to help us understand what happened on their last flight.

“We are deeply thankful for this kind and helpful act. We, the families of the missing pilots, would now like to ask for help.

The crashed plane. (56047160)
The crashed plane. (56047160)

“If you live on the northern coast of France or the southern coast of England and like to spend time at the beach, please be vigilant for any form of aircraft debris, clothes and personal items - Brian is wearing the clothes he was last seen in this photo.

“Your help in this could provide comfort and closure for the families and allow us to start the grieving process. As of this week, our loved ones are missing and we are unable to even consider a funeral.”

The investigation is currently being carried out by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB).

Brian Statham (56047156)
Brian Statham (56047156)

Heartbreakingly Lee’s family said since the search was called off they “have no choice but to assume Lee has passed on”.

Lee, from Stratford and aged around 51, worked in IT and had his own company, Simplify IT Solutions based in Alcester.

Paying tribute to him, Lee’s family said: “Anybody who knew Lee will testify to a larger-than-life character who lived life to the full, a man with a big heart and limitless generosity.

“A skilled and enthusiastic pilot, a lover of all manner of fast and loud machines, which also included a newfound love of yachting.”

“He will leave behind a large wake and will be missed greatly - not only by his family but his legion of friends and colleagues. Lee was and always will be a legendary figure in the IT world and the Warwickshire community, most of which will have a humorous tale or two to recount regarding him.

“Not only a successful entrepreneur, known for his principled and uncompromising code of ethics, Lee was also a kind-hearted supporter of various charities.

“Most recently, Lee supported Guide Dogs, and raised not only a puppy ‘Dixon’ that has gone on to qualify as a guide dog, but lots of money towards additional dogs. Part of the legacy of a wonderful human being.

¬“But first and foremost, Lee was a family man. Sarah has been married to Lee for eight years and they had been happy for many years before.

“Not just a great marriage but great partners who shared genuine adventures. Ellie, Lee’s daughter [aged nine], and the apple of his eye was his greatest joy. Lee had a daily tale to tell of his little girl, another larger-than-life character who reflects her parents in all the best ways.

“It’s not fair that Ellie should be parted with her father so young, or that Sarah should be 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 if they had a hundred lifetimes.

“We thank you for all your kind words and tributes. Please know that it is all appreciated. We’d also like to thank the efforts of the British and French Coastguard, who did everything they possibly could.

“We will soon let everybody know how we plan to honour Lee. In the meantime, we would ask for some time to grieve as a family.”

In tribute to Brian, who lived in the Solihull area and had grown up children, his family said: “On Saturday, 2nd April, Brian Edward Statham left his wife, family and home to go on a flying trip with his closest friends from Wellesbourne to Le Touquet in France. We are deeply saddened that Brian and his co-pilot Lee never made it to Le Touquet.

“As competent pilots, with over 20 years of flying experience combined, it was horrific news to hear that their plane was reported missing over the English Channel.”

They added: “The French and English coastguard searched for more than two days for any sign of wreckage, bodies or clues to help and figure out what happened to the two pilots that have left behind friends, families and co-workers. At this point, the families would like to thank the French and English coastguards for their time, hard work and dedication out at sea working tirelessly to try and find any evidence, wreckage or clues as to what may have happened."

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