Tributes paid to ‘heart and soul’ of airfield

Steve Clarehugh
Steve Clarehugh

A ‘larger-than-life’ and ‘mischievous’ character, who was a key member of the flying community, was killed last week in a crash on the A1.

Steve Clarehugh, 54, from Bockenfield, near Felton, was the chief flying instructor with Purple Aviation at Eshott Airfield.

He died following a crash between his digger and an HGV on the southbound A1, near the Shilbottle junction, last Wednesday afternoon.

Storm Smith, owner of Purple Aviation and Eshott Airfield, said: “It is such a bitter irony that a man who spent thousands of hours safely teaching people to fly, in an environment thought by so many to be so dangerous, should be tragically killed in a road traffic accident – so much life, ended in the blink of an eye.

“But what a life he had. Steve was a very special person to whom everyone instantly warmed.

“He was a larger-than-life character who touched so many people with his fabulous zest for life and his great sense of humour. However, if I could use one word to describe him, it would be mischievous.”

Steve learned to fly microlights in the early 1980s, becoming one of the forefathers of the sport and going on to teach many people to fly as well as building up 7,000 hours of flying experience.

In 2009, he was jointly awarded the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) Safety Award with members of Newcastle Air Traffic Control, having successfully guided a light aircraft, which had suffered engine failure at night, to land at Eshott Airfield by relaying instructions using a hand-held radio and positioning his car with lights on full beam on one of the runways.

The Civil Air Patrol awarded Steve a Certificate of Commendation after he landed his aircraft on a golf course so that he could give first aid to the crew of an aircraft that he had witnessed crashing into a nearby wood. It is highly likely that the two crew members owe their survival to his quick actions.

As well as being a flying instructor, Steve started to breed sheep on his smallholding and bought an old JCB digger and set up a groundworks company, using the skills he had developed in the opencast industry. More recently, he established a woodland burial site to run alongside his smallholding.

Storm added: “He was the heart and soul of Eshott Airfield. We will miss his humour, his loyalty, his friendship, his integrity, his wisdom, his ability to do the right thing and his mischievousness.”

Steve leaves behind his wife Fiona and his children Scott and Sarah. He became a grandfather for the first time just seven weeks ago.

Police are still appealing for witnesses. Contact 101, extension 69191, quoting reference 698 08/12/15.