Tributes have been paid to two friends feared to have died after their plane crashed into the English Chanel in “freak weather conditions”.
Lee Rogers and Brian Statham had taken off from Wellesbourne Mountford Airfield near Stratford-upon-Avon, Warks., on the morning of April 2.
They were heading to Le Touquet, a seaside town in northern France, when their Piper PA-28R lost radar contact before crashing into the English Channel.
An investigation is currently being carried out by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) into the cause of the crash which is believed to have happened during a snow storm.
Today, both Lee and Brian’s families paid tribute to their loved ones as they made appeals to help locate their bodies.
A joint response was launched by the French Coastguard and HM Coastguard to search an area off the Kent and Sussex coast but so far they have not been found.
In a statement issued by Warwickshire Police, Lee’s family said: “It is with profound sadness that we announce the passing of a wonderful father, a loving husband, and a devoted family man Lee Rogers, who has been taken from us due to a tragic air accident on Saturday, April 2.
“Lee was traveling as a passenger with his friend – with whom he had learned to fly – from Wellesbourne Mountford Aerodrome in Warwickshire to Le Touquet in France.
“This trip was part of a group fly out with the South Warwickshire Flying School, which included several other aircraft.
“After encountering freak weather conditions over the channel, contact was lost with Lee’s aircraft around 10.30am.
“Despite intensive British and French search and rescue operations, the search was called off in the evening of Sunday.
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“Therefore, we have no choice but to assume Lee has passed on.
“Anybody who knew Lee will testify to a larger-than-life character who lived life to the full, a man with a big heart and limitless generosity.
“A skilled and enthusiastic pilot, a lover of all manner of fast and loud machines, which also included a newfound love of yachting.
“He will leave behind a large wake and will be greatly missed – not only by his family but his legion of friends and colleagues.
“Lee was and always will be a legendary figure in the IT world and the Warwickshire community, most of which will have a humorous tale or two to recount regarding him.
“Not only a successful entrepreneur, known for his principled and uncompromising code of ethics, Lee was also a kind-hearted supporter of various charities.
“Most recently, Lee supported Guide Dogs, and raised not only a puppy ‘Dixon’ that has gone on to qualify as a guide dog, but lots of money towards additional dogs. Part of the legacy of a wonderful human being.
“But first and foremost, Lee was a family man.
“Sarah has been married to Lee for eight years and they had been happy for many years before.
“Not just a great marriage but great partners who shared genuine adventures. Ellie, Lee’s daughter, and the apple of his eye was his greatest joy.
“Lee had a daily tale to tell of his little girl, another larger-than-life character who reflects her parents in all the best ways.
“It’s not fair that Ellie should be parted with her father so young, or that Sarah should be robbed of her husband way before his time or that Lee’s parents and sister lose a son and brother.
AFP via Getty Images)
“Life isn’t fair, but few leave a legacy like Lee, even if they had a hundred lifetimes.
“We thank you for all your kind words and tributes. Please know that it is all appreciated.
“We’d also like to thank the efforts of the British and French Coastguard, who did everything they possibly could.
“We will soon let everybody know how we plan to honor Lee. In the meantime, we would ask for some time to grieve as a family.”
Brian’s family said: “On Saturday, April 2, Brian Edward Statham left his wife, family and home to go on a flying trip with his closest friends from Wellesbourne to Le Touquet in France.
“We are deeply saddened to announce that Brian and his co-pilot Lee Rogers never made it to Le Touquet.
“As competent pilots, with over 20 years of flying experience combined, it was horrific news to hear that their plane was reported missing over the English Channel at around midday on Saturday.
“The French and English coastguard searched for more than two days for any sign of wreckage, bodies or clues to help and figure out what happened to the two pilots that have left behind friends, families and co-workers.
“At this point, the families would like to thank the French and English coastguards for their time, hard work and dedication out at sea working tirelessly to try and find any evidence, wreckage or clues as to what may have happened.
“On Thursday, April 7, Brian’s flight bag from the plane was found and handed in kindly by a tourist on the beach at Le Touquet.
“This has been vital evidence to help us understand what happened on their last flight.
“We are deeply grateful for this kind and helpful act. We, the families of the missing pilots would now like to ask for help.
“If you live on the northern coast of France or the southern coast of England and like to spend time at the beach, or near the English Channel please be vigilant for any form of aircraft debris, clothes and personal items.
“If you see anything, please pick it up and hand it into the local authorities.
“Your help in this, could provide comfort and closure for the families and allow us to start the grieving process.
“As of this week, our loved ones are missing and we are unable to even consider a funeral.”
A spokesman for HM Coastguard said previously: “HM Coastguard supported the French Coastguard with the search for a light aircraft, last known position 25 miles off Dungeness, on April 2.
“HM Coastguard was made aware of a missing light aircraft just after 10.30am on April 2 after radar contact was lost with the aircraft when it was traveling across the Channel from the UK to France.
“Coastguard search and rescue helicopters from Lydd and Lee-on-the-Solent, together with two fixed wing aircraft as well as the Dungeness and Hastings RNLI lifeboats, joined French search and rescue resources in the search on April 2 and 3.
“Nothing was found and the searches were suspended at 5.50pm on April 3.”
A spokesman for France’s Maritime Prefecture said: “An emergency operation did not uncover any sign of the crash on Saturday, and on Sunday a helicopter flew across the search area but found nothing.
“The direct search has been called off, but anyone discovering debris is asked to contact the maritime authorities.”