By Brad Dison
On June 29, 1994, a 45-year-old pilot took over the controls of a BAe 146 jet airliner as he often did from the senior pilot, Flight Captain Graham Laurie. The pilot had been flying for about 30 years. In the mid-1960s, he began taking private pilot lessons and earned his pilot’s license. He soon joined the Air Force, just as his father, grandfather, and two of his great-grandfathers had done. In the Air Force, he began flying jet aircraft. His aviation career expanded a few years later when he earned his license to fly helicopters. In his three decades of flying, the pilot had an exemplary record.
After a short, non-eventful flight, the pilot steered the jet to a landing strip at Islay, the southernmost island of the Inner Hebrides of Scotland, about 100 miles west of Glasgow. It appeared as if it was going to be a textbook landing until something went wrong. A sudden gust of wind hit the jet and the nose of the jet was pushed slightly lower than it should have been. The front landing wheels, which were smaller in comparison to the rear, main landing wheels, struck the landing strip first. The weight of the jet rested on the front wheels. Under immense pressure, the front wheels burst. In a split-second decision, Flight Captain Laurie instructed the pilot to complete the landing rather than to increase speed, return to the sky, and make another landing approach. The pilot did exactly as he was instructed. The jet overshot the runway and careened off the end of the runway into a grassy field. Although the jet sustained £1 million in damages, no one was injured.
As with any airplane crash, investigators had to determine the cause of the crash and who was responsible. During a board of review, Flight Captain Graham Laurie, not the pilot who was in control of the jet when it crashed, was ultimately held responsible for being negligent because he was the senior pilot. In the following year, 1995, the pilot gave up his pilot’s license for good.
The pilot has four names, which has occasionally caused confusion. Even on his wedding day, his bride, while saying her vows, got his name wrong. In quick response, the groom leaned over and whispered, “You’ve just married my father.”
You see, technically, the pilot was not supposed to be flying the jet because he was not a member of the flight crew, he was a passenger, albeit a royal one. The pilot who narrowly escaped disaster was Charles Philip Arthur George. At the time he was Prince Charles. He is now King Charles III.
1. “Prince Charles Gives up Flying,” UPI, accessed September 27, 2022, upi.com/Archives/1995/07/19/Prince-Charles-gives-up-flying/4243806126400/.
2. “Secrets of Royal Travel,” TV series episode (BBC, November 20, 2020).