A Bradford businessman who was one of four people killed in a plane crash in North Yorkshire, had recently bought back his company to save jobs it was revealed today.

Experienced pilot Gerry Davitt 42, was the owner of lorry tarpaulin company Side Curtain Centre, based at the Napoleon Business Park, off Wakefield Road, Bradford.

He, his father Laurence 67, both from the York area, and two others Paul Blackburn, from Spofforth near Knaresborough and Kenneth Moore, from Harrogate, were all killed instantly when the light aircraft crashed in Heminborough, outside Selby yesterday morning.

Today staff at Mr Davitt's firm were coming to terms with the death of their popular boss who was know as "Gerry" to workers.

Mr Davitt had set up the company ten years ago and sold it six years later. But when the firm was threatened he bought it and turned it round.

Jason French, a supervisor at the firm, said: ""He basically bought it back to keep us in jobs," he said.

"They were going to close the factory and he didn't want that to happen so he put some of his personal money in and bought it back.

"He turned things round - he did a very good job.

"He was just Gerry and people liked him and liked to deal with him.

"We don't know what is going to happen now - it's a big blow to everybody.

"We're continuing working, keeping the doors open."

He said staff had received a number of calls from customers expressing their condolences.

The party had been flying to the island of Texel, off the Dutch coast for a long weekend.

But within minutes of take off from Sherburn-in-Elmet Aero Club, near Selby, the silver and red Mooney 201 single engine plane crashed and exploded into a fireball.

And today it emerged that the Davitt family were involved in a brush with danger three years ago, when Mr Davitt's plane encountered difficulties as it approached the club's airstrip.

His schoolboy son Joe had to take over the controls as his father went to warn passengers to brace themselves for a crash landing after his Beech Sundown aircraft lost half of its landing gear.

Joe, then 11, won a Child of Courage bravery award for calmly flying the plane for a few minutes before handing the controls back to his father, who was able to land the plane on its belly.

An eye witness to yesterday's crash, Robert Dennis, who lives near the crash scene at Brackenholme, said he heard the engine cut out.

"The plane was still above the clouds and I heard the engine start up again. I heard a droning noise and saw it spinning down through the clouds.

"The pilot tried to level out, then I heard a loud thud. I ran inside the house and dialled 999.

"I looked back over my shoulder and smoke was rising from the field where it had crashed, about half a mile from the A63."

Assistant Divisional Commander Phil Wade, who was one of the first to reach the scene, said: "The plane was still alight when we got there. It's possible it could have caught fire before it came down, or when it hit the ground - we don't know yet."

A North Yorkshire Ambulance Service spokesman said the only recognisable piece of aircraft was the tail end.

The bodies were taken from the scene yesterday afternoon and the post mortems examinations were due to be carried out today.

Accident investigators will also be continuing their work at the scene which last night was guarded by police officers.

After learning of today's crash, the Club's members expressed their deep shock and sympathy for the friends and families of those who died.

Dave Skelton, senior administrator at the Sherburn Aero Club, said: "Gerry Davitt had been a member for about ten years, along with Mr Moore - they were both members of a syndicate that owned that particular aircraft.

"People here are very shocked, and can't understand what's happened.

"We believe Mr Davitt was the pilot on this occasion, it was his name on the booking sheet."

Barry Softley, chairman of the 650-member club, said: "We are all totally devastated. We are lost for words and our thoughts go out to the families of the men."

Mr Softley said the club was one of the biggest privately-owned training clubs in the country.

He said the plane was just a few minutes into its journey to Holland, a trip which takes about three hours.

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