The visibly distressed presenter, one of the organisers of the event, paid tribute to the pilot, whose identity has not yet been released, during a press conference this afternoon, saying: “Today (Saturday, August 1), just after 2pm, there was a tragic accident. One of the pilots involved in a synchro display lost his life. Our condolences go out to his family who have been informed.
“The event will continue on the advice of the three aviation authorities we are currently involved with as part of the ongoing investigation.
“The police have also advised us that the safest and best thing to do is to carry on with the event. 10,000 children are here. That’s what we are going to do.
“There will be another statement tomorrow when we know more.”
He said it would be ‘completely inappropriate’ to speculate on how the accident happened.
'Subdued and shocked atmosphere'
BBC Breakfast presenter and Chester resident Louise Minchin was also at the event. Although she did not see the incident, she said: “This is very much a family event to raise funds for Children in Need. There are lots of children here and there is a subdued and shocked atmosphere.”
An Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) spokesman said: “AAIB will be investigating and is sending a team to the site.”
Witnesses at the scene said the red jet was flying alongside another plane as part of an organised display over the CarFest North 2015 event when it went down.
People in the crowd tweeted images which showed plumes of thick black smoke rising from a field close to a wooded area near the circuit. Images of the display jet involved in the sky were also posted on social media.
'There was a gasp from the crowd'
Mark Dowling, a journalist at the Chester Chronicle, saw the crash and said the jet was upside down and wobbling in the air at the time.
He said: “There were two aircraft in the sky doing a dual display. I thought one of them appeared to be a bit low. It was upside down when I saw it go behind some trees, then suddenly there was a huge smoke cloud and flames.
“There was a gasp from the crowd. People were really worried, hoping that the pilot managed to eject. It looked like the plane landed in a field about half a mile north of the circuit.”
Mr Dowling added: “All the car action had taken place in the morning so most people were watching the display.”
Witnesses reported that the plane involved was a former Red Arrow jet and privately owned as part of the Gnat Display Team. They are based at North Weald Airfield and are part of the Heritage Aircraft Trust.
The type of jet involved is believed to have been used as part of the Red Arrows display team until 1979, when it was replaced by the Hawk T1.
In a statement, Cheshire Police said the plane crashed in a wooded area near Oulton Park.
The force said: “Shortly after 2pm we received reports of a plane having crashed in a wooded area near the CarFest North 2015 site. Officers are currently at the scene working to find out what has happened. The incident is in a very early stage and more details will be released when they become available.”
A statement from Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service said: “Shortly after 2pm today the service received reports of a plane having crashed in a wooded area near the CarFest site at Oulton Park near Park Road, Tarporley.
“Fire engines from Chester, Ellesmere Port, Northwich, Winsford and Knutsford were initially sent to the scene.
“On arrival firefighters found scattered wreckage and smouldering fires and initially used foam jets to tackle them.
“The service’s medical director also attended the scene and crews then used water to damp down hot spots.
“Staff then worked with police colleagues to preserve the scene and the attendance was reduced to one fire engine.”
The crash happened during the lunch break of the popular three-day festival, which was opened by Chris Evans yesterday and raises money for the BBC’s Children in Need.
Evans launched CarFest as an event to combine classic cars, live music and food. It closes tomorrow and there’s a sister event due to be held in the south at Laverstoke Park Farm in Hampshire later in the month.
One Twitter user said: “Feel sick. I just witnessed a plane crash at CarFest. Literally flew over my head and blew up on a ball of flames in a field.”
Another Twitter user said they didn’t see a parachute eject from the plane.
Twitter user Johnathan Randall added: “Think I’ve just witnessed a plane crash? Crowd looks glum, confused, concerned. Everyone on their phones.” And Emma McEvoy added on Twitter: “OMG plane crashed right in front of our eyes at Carfest hope the pilot ejected!! Whole crowd went silent!”
New Top Gear host Evans described the festival as ‘a dream of cars, music, food and masses of family fun’. In a tweet today he confirmed a ‘serious air incident’.
He tweeted: “I am very sad to announce there has been a serious air incident at CarFest North off-site. The emergency services are in attendance.”