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Crash-land pilot cool as cucumber

PUBLISHED: 15:57 31 July 2001 | UPDATED: 15:16 03 March 2010

A MATTER of supreme unimportance.

That was how microlight pilot Stephen Partridge-Hicks coolly described the moment his propeller came apart in mid-air forcing him to make an emergency landing in a countryside field.

A MATTER of supreme unimportance.

That was how microlight pilot Stephen Partridge-Hicks today coolly described the moment his propeller came apart in mid-air forcing him to make an emergency landing in a countryside field.

In tones reminiscent of Tom Cruise's Top Gun sparring partner Iceman, he calmly spoke about the experience when, during a sunny afternoon on Sunday, he was left right up in the air…without a propeller.

"Not having an engine was a matter of supreme unimportance to me," said the 43-year-old investment banker, who is based in London during the week. "I am a glider pilot and I've flown gliders all over Suffolk.

"There was a bang and I simply switched off the engine and the instructor who was with me said: 'You now have control'.

"The aircraft was flying alright and we chose a field and landed. It was just the same as landing a glider," he said of the abrupt end to his airborne journey that started from the grounds of his Norton home, near Bury St Edmunds.

"The nose cone fell off when we went over a rut - that's what it is designed to do.

"Otherwise there was hardly any damage to it at all. I was a glad that the exhaust did not set fire to the crops and that no one was hurt.

"One's primary concern is that no one got hurt - that was the good news.

"We were able to climb out without a scratch - not even a broken finger nail."

The Evening Star yesterday told how villagers in Crowfield watched the distressed aircraft then at an estimated height of around 1,000 feet come to back to earth with a bump - and destroy their sleepy afternoon reveries.

But Mr Partridge-Hicks insisted that, contrary to police and eyewitness reports, the white two-seater CFM Shadow aircraft did not flip over and come to rest upside down. The confusion may have arisen because of the mini-plane's unusual design.

Mr Partridge-Hicks, who first took to the skies in handgliders as a teenager, revealed that he owns a small stake in the company which builds the Shadow. Other than the damage to the propeller - thought to be caused by a bird - his faith in the craft's design clearly remained undented as he added that the vital parts of the aircraft were all in working order on landing.

He went on to express his thanks to the emergency services involved - even if the level of the response, which included a search and rescue Sea King helicopter, three fire appliances, a paramedic and police, left him a little bemused.

"We climbed out and suddenly half the army had arrived," he said. "Within twenty minutes, all the emergency services appeared. I thought to myself: 'This must be the safest place to crash-land ever'.

"The services were brilliant - and the local people were charming and very helpful."

Retired transport manager Michael Duhig, 57, was with relatives who saw the microlight plummet to the ground as they enjoyed fine sunny weather in the garden.

"There was an enormous bang," he said. "They said they thought it was going to hit the houses. One of my relatives told me how she held her breath as it came towards us, but it veered away.

"I phoned the police who treated it as a full scale emergency incident."

Three fire appliances and a lifting unit joined paramedic police and the search and rescue helicopter, which arrived first on the scene from nearby Wattisham.

"The microlight's engine sounded funny," added Mr Duhig.

"There was an enormous bang and that's when the propeller fell off. They are very lucky chaps, very lucky."

The Civil Aviation Authority were informed of the incident, but it is not thought any further investigation will be needed.

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