A distinguished RAF veteran died after a fire broke out in his home, an inquest has heard.

Colin Michael Quaife, 87, was found dead at his cottage on Little Badminton Lane in Lea, near Malmesbury, on Sunday, January 22 last year.

Around 40 firefighters were called to the scene, at around 11am, after neighbours spotted smoke coming from the property.

It is believed the blaze was caused by a chimney stack failure and took hold of the house at some point during the previous evening.

While the fire was slow burning and localised, it caused parts of the home to collapse, making it difficult to search for Colin.

During an operation to make the scene safe, firefighters discovered what they believed to be human remains inside the property.

DNA tests later identified Colin as the occupant found by fire crews, although a post-mortem was unable to ascertain his cause of death because of fire damage.

During an inquest at Wiltshire and Swindon Coroner’s Court, Senior Coroner David Ridley concluded Colin’s death was an accident outside of human control.

He added the fire was a “factor” in Colin’s death, but that he could not be sure if it was a direct cause or if it triggered or contributed to a natural death, due to a lack of evidence.

Investigations by Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service and insurance company Jensen Hughes both reached similar verdicts.

They found that, based on the evidence gathered, a failed mortar joint in the chimney was the most likely cause of the fire.

This allowed hot flue gases to leak into the property, causing a blaze to take hold.

It is believed Colin was alerted to the disturbance, went to investigate, and became incapacitated after being exposed to smoke containing “toxic gases.”

Colin’s daughter told the coroner her father maintained the property, which he owned for 51 years, and had the chimney regularly swept.

Family described Colin as a “bright, intelligent, and creative” man with a love of writing and a passion for cooking.

Colin enjoyed a distinguished RAF career after leaving school, during which he was posted to countries across the world.

He became a pilot, flying the RAF Hercules among other aircrafts, and once landed on the ice during a mission in Antarctica.

Colin was awarded both an MBE and an OBE for his service, eventually leaving the RAF at 50.

He later acted as a consultant to multiple aviation companies thanks to his experience and contacts in the Middle East.