LONDON - The final death toll from a jet crash at a British airshow could rise to 20 but the lifting of the plane has revealed no evidence of further victims, police said Monday.
Eleven people are so far thought to have been killed in the crash on Saturday, when a vintage Hawker Hunter military jet failed to pull up in time after a loop manoeuvre and ploughed through cars on a busy road.
The crash at the Shoreham Airshow on the southeast English coast created two fireballs that sent thick, black smoke billowing into the sky.
The pilot, experienced aerobatic stunt flyer Andy Hill, remains in a critical condition in hospital.
Sussex Police assistant chief constable Steve Barry said the death toll could increase. Seven fatalities have been confirmed so far.
"The number of highly likely dead remains at 11, but may rise. However, we do not expect that figure to be greater than 20, probably fewer," he said.
After a crane lifted the jet, Barry added: "We have not discovered any evidence of further victims and our estimate of 11 highly likely victims remains in place." "However, until we have fully completed the search of what is an extensive scene, I must caution that there is still the possibility that we may discover evidence of further victims, but I am not prepared to speculate on that figure." Local coroner Penny Schofield said identifying the victims would be a "slow and painstaking operation" that could take several weeks.
"The fire was so intense and the scale of the damage so vast, it means that we must very carefully remove the remains in a way that will lead to a formal identification," she added.
Pilot's family 'devastated'
Hawker Hunter planes were a mainstay of Britain's Royal Air Force in the 1950s and early 1960s.
The jet appeared to wobble slightly and lose height at the bottom of its loop before ploughing across a major road that runs along England's southeast coast.
Hill's family said they were "devastated and deeply saddened" by the loss of life.
Friend and fellow pilot Neil McCarthy said that in Britain, Hill - who is fighting for his life in hospital - was one of only around six who fly Hawker Hunters, of which about five remain airworthy.
He described him as an "exceptional pilot".
"What Andy did is exactly what I would expect to see... it looked exactly the way it should be done," he told BBC television.
"But so many things can go wrong: there can be bird strikes, engine failure, an engine fire, there could be all sorts." The Civil Aviation Authority announced that displays by vintage jets will be "significantly restricted until further notice" as a result of the tragedy.
Steve Andrews was one of the first paramedics in attendance.
"It was a scene of utter devastation. The aircraft was still burning at the time, there were a lot of cars heavily damaged, debris all over.
"Unfortunately there was not a lot we could do for the casualties in the cars."