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Shoreham air disaster killed 11 but victim’s sons have become ‘brothers’

TIME is meant to be a great healer – yet for Tanya Hewstone and her eight-year-old son Georgio, it is anything but.

In 2015, her ex-partner Daniele Polito, 23, was killed after a daredevil aerobatics stunt went wrong at the Shoreham Airshow.

He was driving with a pal along the A27 in West Sussex when the Hawker Hunter jet smashed into the road in a fireball.

The pilot miraculously survived after being thrown from the cockpit but Daniele was one of 11 people who lost their lives on the ground.

On Saturday, on the anniversary of the crash, Tanya, 26, will join relatives of those who died to visit the memorial bridge close to where the plane came down.

Last night, she told The Sun: “It is still affecting Georgio a hell of a lot.

“He knows his dad is not here and is not coming back but doesn’t understand why.

“He’s eight and still trying to piece it together in his head. There is still a lot he doesn’t understand and he asks a hell of a lot of questions.

“Sometimes I don’t know the answers. He wants to see more photos of his dad and asks questions like, ‘How tall was he?’.

“He compares himself to him, and says, ‘I’m tall like Daddy’, and ‘I’m funny like Daddy’.

“The older he gets, the more he wants to know and the harder it gets.

“He understands more about death than he does about living. That is what is confusing him.”

But there is one bright spot for Georgio and Tanya, who split up with Daniele ten months before his death.

Days after his funeral she received a text message from a Georgina Brown, revealing that she was pregnant with Daniele’s son.

She decided to meet the 21-year-old healthcare worker, from Worthing, West Sussex — now mother to Daniele’s four-year-old son Jaxson — and the two women became best pals. And so did their sons.

Tanya says: “We are still good friends. We FaceTime once a week and the boys have their FaceTime, too.

“They are very alike, just like their dad. They have so much energy and are both very cheeky.”

Fun-loving construction worker Daniele was besotted with his son and had Georgio tattooed on his back. That inking was used to identify his body.

Tanya is heartbroken that he is no longer here to guide the youngster, who now struggles to build relationships with anyone because he does not know if they will die too.

She says: “Georgio doesn’t like getting attached to people or too close to people because he doesn’t know who’s going to stay and who’s going to go.”

He had a counsellor for ten weeks after the tragedy, but when the sessions ended he became unsettled because she was no longer there.

Tanya says: “She went. It didn’t sit well with him at all, even though it was explained to him she wasn’t going to be there for long.

“When it comes to talking about his dad, he closes off. He doesn’t like talking to anyone he doesn’t know about his dad.”

Georgio’s learning has also been affected by the trauma and Tanya is desperately trying to get him the support he needs.

She adds: “When I speak to people who have known him for a long time they’ve noticed a difference in him since he lost his dad. It has affected him so badly.”

Full-time mum Tanya and the other families are now awaiting a report from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) into the risks of performing aircraft stunts at low levels, which is due next month.

Many of them believe the CAA should not have allowed the ageing 1950s jet to perform a perilous manoeuvre so close to a built-up area.

The airshow took place on August 22, 2015, at Brighton City Airport, which is sandwiched between Lancing and Shoreham-by-Sea on the south coast.

Hawker Hunter jet pilot Andy Hill, 56, failed to achieve the necessary height and speed to safely complete his loop.

As a result the jet crashed into the westbound carriageway of the busy A27 road between Worthing and Brighton. Tanya said: “I still need answers about what happened.

“Any extra information that could help Georgio understand too as he gets older would really help us cope.”

Former RAF flier Mr Hill was blamed for the tragedy in a report by the Air Accidents Investigation Board.

But in March last year he was cleared in court of manslaughter after his lawyer claimed that the level of G-force had temporarily impaired his ability to fly.

That verdict has left unanswered questions about the safety of all low-level acrobatic manoeuvres, with many asking: If G-force can cause pilots to momentarily lose consciousness, then how could they ever be safe?

A three-year ban on acrobatic displays at airshows was lifted two years ago, although some aircraft are now restricted in what feats they can perform.

The families had hoped a coroner’s inquest into the disaster would provide concrete answers this year, but it has been postponed until next autumn due to the pandemic.

Solicitor Sarah Stewart, representing nine of the 11 families, told The Sun: “Five years on from the tragedy that sadly claimed the lives of 11 men, the bereaved families are still waiting for answers as to what happened to their loved ones.”

The other victims were Daniele’s friend Matt Jones, 24, Maurice Abrahams, 76, Dylan Archer, 42, Tony Brightwell, 53, Mark Reeves, 53, Richard Smith, 26, Mark Trussler, 54, Graham Mallinson, 72, Jacob Schilt, 23 and Matthew Grimstone, 23.

They were all local to Sussex. Matthew and Jacob both played for Worthing United FC.

Former Grenadier Guardsman and chauffeur Maurice was on his way to pick up a bride to take her to her wedding.

And Graham, Tony and Mark were keen aviation buffs there to watch the airshow.

The relatives want the coroner to allow key protected material from the air investigation report — which was excluded from Mr Hill’s trial — to be presented at the inquest.

With the pilot cleared, the focus is now on the aviation watchdog, which was supposed to keep spectators and residents safe.

Coroner Penelope Schofield will look at whether industry regulator the CAA should have had stronger safety measures in place prior to the crash.

Mr Hill, who was once regarded as one of the RAF’s best pilots and took part in enforcing the no-fly zone over Iraq before the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, suffered extensive injuries, including a collapsed lung, in the accident.

He was in a coma for a week but was well enough to be discharged from hospital three weeks later.

After leaving the RAF, Mr Hill became a commercial pilot with Virgin Atlantic and then British Airways.

He took to performing at airshows after he and his wife Ellen, also a BA pilot, built their own plane from a kit, and flew it at one.

He has now returned to his country home in the picturesque village of Sandon, Herts — but for Tanya and Georgio, the nightmare goes on.

After visiting the memorial bridge on Saturday, they will go and sit on a nearby bench dedicated just to Daniele.

Tanya says: “We will never forget him.”

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