Pilot in court after deadly crash on Portugal beach

Lisbon (AFP) –


A flight instructor and trainee pilot of a small plane that crash landed on a crowded beach near Lisbon, killing a man and an eight-year-old girl, appeared in court Thursday.

The two men refused to speak to reporters as they arrived at the building in Almada, across the River Tagus from the Portuguese capital, to be questioned by a prosecutor behind closed doors.

The pilot and instructor could be charged following the interview, with legal experts speculating on negligent homicide, which carries a potential prison sentence of up to 16 years.

Terrified sunbathers ran for their lives, some of them into the sea, as the plane flew onto Sao Joao da Caparica beach on Wednesday after having mechanical trouble.

The plane hit an eight-year-old girl and a 56-year-old man, killing them instantly, authorities said.

"The plane first hit the man, who had his back to it. Immediately after it rose up and when it descended again the wheel hit the child's head," Filipe Janeira, 34, who was at the beach, told daily Jornal de Noticias.

The girl was with her parents, who were unhurt, and was on her way to take a swim in when she was hit.

Beachgoers surrounded the plane after it came to a halt on the sand and confronted the two men inside.

"They called them murderers. People were furious. It was incredible," Antonio Goncalves, who was in the water when the accident happened, told Jornal de Noticias.

The instructor and pilot were unhurt and were led away from the Cessna CS-AVA plane by police for questioning.

Police named them as official suspects, a status which gives a range of legal protections, such as the right to remain silent and the right to a lawyer during questioning.

Once someone is declared an "arguido" they can be arrested, but only if there is sufficient evidence.

- 'He is suffering' -

The father of the girl who died said the pilot seemed to be in control of the plane which was flying in a straight line despite appearing to have a broken wing.

"In my opinion that individual wanted to land the plane without any concern about everyone else. He is suffering, I know, but his concern was landing safely," he told private television TVI after the accident.

The instructor could be heard telling a control tower that the plane had suffered engine failure and was going to make an emergency landing, according to a recording broadcast on Portuguese television.

"Mayday, mayday. Engine failure, will land on the beach," he said.

The control tower then asked which beach, and the instructor named a neighbouring beach which normally has much fewer people.

It is not immediately clear why the pilot opted to land instead on Sao Joao da Caparica.

The beach is one of the closest to Lisbon and it draws huge crowds in August, when the Portuguese take their main summer holidays.