Colleague pays tribute to flying instructor

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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.

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

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.

Steve was born and brought up in Newcastle and his first job, while still at school, was working as a petrol-pump attendant. Having left school, he went on to operate and drive huge excavation machines for the National Coal Board at one of its opencast sites, where his love of diggers was to begin.

He went on to become a manager at the Stagecoach Group and also set up his own taxi business, his most famous ‘rides’ being the actors Melanie Griffith and Sean Bean.

Later, 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.

Steve was a keen golfer, had taken up shooting six years ago, was passionate about skiing and was a big rugby fan, following Newcastle Falcons and England.

Storm added: “He disliked no one, never failed to see the best in people and no one disliked him.

“His wit, humour and endless mischievous ability to create fun pranks are what we will all remember him for.

“He never missed a thing and is famous for his one-line responses.

“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.”