THE elderly pilot and his passenger were fortunate to survive when their two-seater plane crash landed at Dunkeswell Airfield.

The 80-year-old owner of the aircraft, which was running on fuel not approved for aviation use, sent out a Mayday signal moments before touchdown after the engine suddenly cut out without warning, a report states.

The badly damaged modified Rutan Long-Ez G-WBPWP plane, which had been flown from Biggin Hill Airport, in Bromley, shot along the ground for a further 54 metres before coming to a standstill.

The unnamed pilot, who was seriously injured and needed to be airlifted to hospital, asked his passenger, who was less badly injured, if she was OK, opened the canopy and told her not to move before emergency response vehicles arrived.

An Air Accidents Investigation Branch report into the crash on July 7 last year says: "While on base leg to land on Runway 04 at Dunkeswell Airfield the engine, which was being supplied with fuel from the left fuel tank, suddenly stopped.

"The pilot established a glide to land in a field in the undershoot, but at a late stage in the approach he spotted a fence running across his chosen landing site.

"Whilst manoeuvring to avoid the fence, the aircraft touched down firmly, seriously injuring the pilot; the passenger sustained minor injuries.

"The likely cause of the engine stopping was either carburettor icing or a vapour lock in the aircraft fuel supply to the engine."

The report says the left wing and the nose section of the fuselage were "extensively damaged, while the nose landing gear detached from the aircraft at the point of impact.

It concluded that the probability of the engine stopping was "increased as a result of using Mogas, which the aircraft was not authorised for".

It says: "Following the engine failure, the pilot would have been faced with a steeper than normal glide approach and most likely did not arrest the high rate of descent sufficiently before the aircraft touched down firmly."