A millionaire who died in a plane crash alongside his wife helped to save their son's life by telling him to 'brace' just moments before the aircraft plummeted to the ground.Pilot Lewis Tonkinson, 50, and his wife Sally, 44, were returning from a break on the Isle of Wight with their son, George, when their light aircraft came down in woodland as he tried to land at a Hampshire airfield.The couple, from Alcester, Warwickshire, died in the crash but George was pulled from the wreckage alive and rushed to Southampton General Hospital with life-threatening injuries. An inquest into the couple's deaths at Basingstoke Magistrates' Court heard how poor flying conditions combined with an engine fault were likely to have led to the disaster. Scott Wilson, inspector at the Air Accident Investigations Branch (AAIB), told the jury that George, then six, had been able to describe the final moments before the crash on January 3, 2015. He said: 'We know the pilot was conscious as there was the surviving passenger, the young boy, who said so. The one bit of evidence I’m happy to give is that his dad told him to take the brace position. 'That tells me the pilot was aware the plane was in difficulty. It tells me he was conscious at the time and was trying to avoid a crash. I believe the weather was the overriding factor in this crash.' The brace position is a crouched posture that offers the best chance to survive in a crash because it stops someone flying forward and striking the seat or interior in front of them.
The inquest heard that Mr Tonkinson, a marketing company director, had held a valid private class 2 flying licence since 2008 and had clocked more than 200 hours in the air.
Before taking off from Bembridge Airfield on the Isle of Wight, Mr Tonkinson had repeatedly checked the latest weather reports on his phone and iPad.
He wanted to fly home that afternoon because George had a birthday party to attend.
Final moments: Their son George revealed his father (pictured together) told him to 'brace' before the crash
Debris: Lewis and Sally Tonkinson were both declared dead at the scene of the crash, pictured
Family friend Nina Cooper, who drove the Tonkinsons to the airfield on the day of the crash, told the inquest Mr Tonkinson was 'intelligent, confident, reliable' and 'not a chancer or someone who would take risks to harm his family'.
Mr Wilson said that while visibility was 'acceptable' leaving the Isle of Wight, weather deteriorated as the Pioneer 400 aircraft travelled north.
He said he suspected the pilot had considered landing at Popham Airfield, Hampshire but that it would have been difficult to manoeuvre the aircraft given the challenging conditions.
'The aircraft on that day was undoubtedly lower than normal - quite possibly lower than any circuit Mr Tonkinson had flown before.
'The culmination of this I believe is the pilot was aiming to be flying into this runway and then realised he was lower than he wanted to be at that point, and added power.'
Attempt: An inquest heard it was thought Mr Tonkinson had tried to land at Popham Airfield, Hampshire
Melvyn Hiscock, an airground radio operator at Popham Airfield with 20 years flying experience, said he tried to contact the Mr Tonkinson over the radio but there was no reply.
He saw the wheels were down indicating the plane was trying to land, adding that the plane looked 'uncomfortable' in the air.
Witness Stuart Poffley saw the plane struggling as he drove home on the A303. He said the aircraft was flying on its side as if it was taking part in an 'aerobatic display' above him.
He added: 'It’s like they were struggling to keep it in control. I was concerned because where I last saw the plane I didn’t see anywhere it could go and that a crash was possible.'
Air accident investigators told the inquest the engine stalled right at the end of the flight as the pilot tried to pull on the throttle. Moments later it crashed into the trees.
Mr Wilson said it appeared Mr Tonkinson had 'too much power on' given the existing problem with the engine's turbo charger.
The defect resulted in a 'catastrophic engine failure' when the pilot applied full throttle, sending the plane plummeting toward the ground, the inquest was told.
An air ambulance found the crash site within eight minutes of the crash and were able to pull George, then six, from the wreckage.
Mr and Mrs Tonkinson were both pronounced dead at the scene.
The jury took less than half an hour to return a narrative verdict, as directed by coroner for North East Hampshire, Andrew Bradley.
Reading out the verdict, he said Mr Tonkinson had 'encountered poor weather conditions and a technical problem with the aircraft engine.
'In the course of attempts to land at Popham airfield in Hampshire, the engine seized and lost power, then collided with trees and crashed into the ground.'