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Pilot could face homicide charges over Portugal crash landing

A flight instructor and trainee pilot whose small plane killed two people during an emergency landing on a crowded Portuguese beach could face negligent homicide charges, prosecutors said Thursday.

The two men refused to speak to reporters as they left court in Almada, across the River Tagus from Lisbon, where they were questioned behind closed doors.

A man and an eight-year-old girl died in Wednesday’s incident.

The investigation is continuing to determine if the instructor and aspiring pilot will be charged, the public public prosecutor’s office said in a statement after the hearing.

Terrified sunbathers ran for their lives, some of them into the sea, as the plane flew on to Sao Joao da Caparica beach after mechanical trouble.

The plane hit the young girl and a 56-year-old man, killing them instantly.

“The plane first hit the man, who had his back to it,” Filipe Janeira, 34, who was at the beach, told daily Jornal de Noticias.

“Immediately after it rose up and when it descended again the wheel hit the child’s head.”

The girl was on her way to take a swim when she was hit.

The man who died reportedly worked for the Portuguese air force.

Beachgoers surrounded the plane after it came to a halt on the sand, and confronted the two men inside.

“They called them murderers. People were furious. It was incredible,” Antonio Goncalves, who was in the water when the accident happened, told Jornal de Noticias.

The instructor and pilot were unhurt and were led away from the Cessna CS-AVA plane by police for questioning.

Police named them as official suspects, a status which gives a range of legal protections, such as the right to remain silent and the right to a lawyer during questioning.

Once someone is declared an “arguido” they can be arrested and charged, but only if there is sufficient evidence.

– ‘He is suffering’ –

The father of the girl who died said the pilot seemed to be in control of the plane which was flying in a straight line despite appearing to have a broken wing.

“In my opinion that individual wanted to land the plane without any concern about everyone else. He is suffering, I know, but his concern was landing safely,” he told private television TVI after the accident.

The instructor could be heard telling a control tower that the plane had suffered engine failure and was going to make an emergency landing, according to a recording played on Portuguese television.

“Mayday, mayday. Engine failure, will land on the beach,” he said.

The control tower then asked where, leading the instructor to name a neighbouring beach which normally has far fewer people.

It was not immediately clear why the pilot opted to land instead on Sao Joao da Caparica.

The beach is one of the closest to Lisbon and it draws huge crowds in August, when the Portuguese take their main summer holidays.