FORMER RAF flying ace Barry Conway is 'lucky to be alive' after crash landing his plane just outside Marlborough.

The 80-year-old was bringing his home-built, half-scale, German Luftwaffe WW2 Focke Wulf in to land at a small airstrip near Ogbourne St George.

But he mistook the tramlines made by a tractor in a crop field for the runway.

“The ruts made by the tractor wheels made the plane flip over on to its back,” said his friend and flying colleague Dudley Pattison. “He is very lucky to be with us. He could have easily broken his neck and there was always a concern about the fuel igniting.”

He said Barry, from Carterton, was conscious and chatting as firefighters cut him from the cockpit. He was taken to Great Western Hospital, where he remains, being treated for cracked vertebrae in his neck and back.

“His two sons have been in to see him," said Dudley. “He is in good spirits, but will certainly be in a neck brace for a while.”

Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service said crew members used hydraulic cutting equipment to cut him free.

They were on the site for just over an hour using foam to stem the flow of the potentially-hazardous aviation fuel, with the South Western Ambulance Service and Wiltshire Air Ambulance also called to the scene.

Station manager Wayne Presley said: “The main concern for us was the fuel itself. The aviation fuel was the main hazard for the fire service. The aircraft was in a field of standing crop, so with a day like today fire can spread.”

An Air Accidents Investigation Branch spokesperson said: “The AAIB was informed of an accident involving a light aircraft at an airstrip south of Swindon and will be conducting an investigation.”

The damaged plane has now been removed from the field and taken to a hangar awaiting inspection.

“The farmer was very helpful,” said Dudley. “We put straps around it, and with the help of his tractor, loaded it on to a low loader and removed it from the site.”

Dudley has known Barry for 25 years, and says he is an accomplished pilot and engineer. They paired up in 2000 to win the Schneider Trophy Air Race – a 100 mile mid-air race, famous for its incredible speeds and intricate manoeuvring. “Barry is a former RAF Phantom pilot,” said Dudley, from Wanborough. “And he also flew for a commercial airline too.”

He is expected to be released from hospital in the next few days to return home to his wife in Carterton.