THE pilot of the doomed Tiger Moth biplane had retired from airline operations ten years previously after commanding Boeing 747 jumbo jets for Cathay Pacific.

Highly experienced airman Christopher Harvey Nicholls, who lived in Farnham, began his career in the Royal Air Force where he operated large transport aircraft before moving into commercial aviation.

He was based in Hong Kong.

During his career the 64-year-old also flew light aircraft, gaining his flying instructor rating.

He started flying at Compton Abbas in July 2006.

Mr Nicholls and his passenger Peter Geoffrey Stacey, who was 67 and lived in Shaftesbury, died near the airfield on the morning of August 26 2017 when the biplane's engine failed.

A report published by the Air Accident Investigation Branch was released this week. In it, investigators said a witness heard and then saw the aircraft climbing slowly at low airspeed, with the engine “sounding awful and misfiring” before it descended “corkscrewing down”.

Mr Stacey was in the plane as part of an 'air experience flight'.

Two people at a farm near the accident site heard the aircraft take-off.

One saw it briefly above trees before losing sight of it behind a barn, after which they heard the engine stop.

Driving towards the scene they could see smoke. They were unable to help Mr Stacey and Mr Nicholls.

Mr Nicholls' last flight before the accident was in a DHC-1 Chipmunk aircraft. He flew the plane the day before the fatal crash.

Of the Mr Nicholls' 22,240 hours, 512 were on the same type of aircraft as Tiger Moth G-ADXT.

He had flown for 24 hours over the 28 days leading up to the accident.

Mr Stacey had no aviation background and no previous experience of controlling an aircraft or flight simulator.

The August Bank Holiday flight had been planned to last for around 30 minutes, taking place over Shaftesbury and then the Great Dorset Steam Fair near Blandford.

Aborting take-off was an option, report into tragedy finds

Mr Nicholls had just seconds to consider abandoning his take off, the report suggests.

Test flights taken concluded that had a decision been made ‘promptly’ to abandon take off, it would have been possible to stop safely.

“On take off the engine was heard to misfire, but the aircraft continued to climb,” highlighted the report.

“It would have been possible to abandon the take off closing the throttle and attempting to stop on the runway.

“If the decision was made promptly, there would have been sufficient space remaining for the aircraft to stop or turn away from the obstacles at the eastern boundary.”

After reporting an engine problem shortly after take off, Mr Nicholls made a turn back towards the Compton Abbas Airfield, before pitching down violently and crashing in a field.

The report said: “During the accident take off, engine speed reduced to 1,710rpm.

“This may have been a result of the pilot reducing throttle in order to reject the take-off.

"However, the take-off continued and he may have concluded that there was insufficient runway or other space on the airfield in which to stop.”