MILLIONAIRE businessman Colin Sanders was killed when his helicopter crashed in a field and burst into flames.

Motorists on the M40 motorway watched in horror as the chopper plunged to the ground and tumbled across a field in a ball of flame. More than 20 rang the emergency services on mobile phones.

Insp David Whitaker, of Bicester police, was one of the first people at the scene, a field at Souldern Grounds Farm, Souldern, near Bicester.

He said: "It was the worst aircraft crash I've ever seen. The debris just did not look like an aircraft - you couldn't recognise it.

"The main body of the aircraft was still ablaze and there was quite a smell of fuel. Debris was spread over the first field for about 50 metres and then in another field."

The crash happened at about 6.30pm yesterday near Mr Sanders's home at Souldern Manor, where he had his own hangar and landing strip.

Insp Whitaker said police were first called by the farm's owners who heard a bang. When they came out of their house they saw the helicopter in a ball of flame in the field.

He said they knew the pilot and were "very distressed".

Mr Sanders, 50, was a qualified helicopter pilot and had been taking a course in night flying. He had dropped off his instructor at Oxford Airport, Kidlington, after a lesson and was heading home alone in his French-built twin-engined Squirrel helicopter.

Fire crews used thermal imaging equipment to make sure no-one else was on board the four-seater helicopter. Police sealed off the area as crash investigators moved in.

A spokesman at Oxford Airport said Mr Sanders relied on the airport for fuel and maintenance and was a regular visitor. Tributes poured in today for Mr Sanders, who had set up a company that was destined to make him a fortune - with just £13 in his pocket.

Banbury MP Tony Baldry said: "I am desperately sorry to learn of Colin Sanders's death. He was an outstanding man, a person who took an enormous interest in the well-being of the community in which he lived. He was a brilliant businessman who was extremely generous in his support for local initiatives. He will be enormously missed."

The rags to riches story of Mr Sanders started in 1969 when at the age of 22 he set up a company called Solid State Logic in a garage in Stonesfield.

The firm, which produces audio mixing equipment for recording studios, developed into a world leader. It was eventually sold in 1986 for £27m.

In the same year, Mr Sanders was rewarded with a CBE. He had previously been recognised as one of the country's most successful entrepreneurs by the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who invited him to attend a Downing Street reception.

Mr Sanders said in 1981: "If I didn't work in electronics I would do it as a hobby. The profit is just a product of doing something I enjoy."

His wife, Dr Rosie Sanders, is an anaesthetist at Horton General Hospital, Banbury, where Mr Sanders's body was taken for formal identification.

The couple have three adopted children, two boys and a girl.

The family have lived at Souldern Manor near Bicester for ten years and regularly opened their gardens to the public in aid of charity. Mr Sanders paid half the cost of the village children's playground and gave an organ to the church. He had recently offered to finance a roller blade rink on the village playing field. His wife was attending a parish council meeting last night to discuss the issue when she heard of the accident and was called away.

Mr Sanders was also a patron of the Akeman Street project to provide Bicester with a public hall and theatre. He created paths to allow villagers to enjoy the stunning grounds and gardens at his home.

Villager John Talbot said: "Mr Sanders involved himself in village life and will be greatly missed."

Ann Prescott, a parish councillor and family friend, said: "He was a great benefactor to the village and a personal friend. He was irreplaceable. He had no side to him. He treated everyone the same."

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