A PILOT'S skills helped to prevent a tragedy when a light aircraft got into difficulties during a routine flight from a small North-East air strip.

Experienced pilot Bill Goldsmith put all his ability to the test when the engine of two-seater Europa XS914-turbo fixed-wing aircraft failed during the flight over County Durham countryside.

Mr Goldsmith, who was accompanied by plane owner and co-pilot Phil Tait, had to make a forced landing on a farm field near Castle Eden, in east Durham.

The Europa flipped on to its roof on landing and came to rest in an inverted position in the middle of the field, avoiding nearby buildings at Hulam Farm.

Both 51-year-old Mr Goldsmith, of Cinderford Close, Boldon, South Tyneside, and Mr Tait, 44, of Poplars Lane, Carlton, near Stockton, managed to clamber out, badly shaken, but otherwise virtually unscathed.

Emergency service vehicles were quickly on scene, but the men required treatment only for hand injuries after being taken to Hartlepool's University Hospital as a precaution.

Yesterday, both men were left wondering how they would be able to return the damaged plane to its base, less than four miles away at Fishburn Airstrip.

Neither Mr Goldsmith or Mr Tait wanted to comment yesterday, but friend and fellow aircraft enthusiast Ronald Smith, who lives at Hulam Farm, said both suffered shock, but were able to walk free from the damaged plane.

"I didn't actually see the impact, but I could tell from the sound that an aircraft was in difficulties, the engine was obviously sick, before it came down.

"I went out to investigate and it had already done the forced landing.

"I'm not a pilot myself, I just help others to build light aircraft, but it was a good job Mr Goldsmith is so highly experienced.

"He has over 1,000 hours flying this sort of aircraft and must be one of the best pilots in the country in that type.

"He realised he had a major problem, and it looks like he's done a 180-degree turn across the front of the house and come down in the field.

"Pilots are trained to do this, it's part of a pilot's licence, and he has followed the full emergency procedures and probably saved their lives."

Mr Smith said the plane was on a two-hour endurance test flight when the engine developed a fault.