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'No malfunction' in Haughey helicopter

Peter Woodman

NO TECHNICAL malfunction which might account for the helicopter crash which killed leading Northern Ireland businessman and Tory peer Lord Ballyedmond and three others has been identified to date, air accident investigators said yesterday.

Dense fog had developed on the night of March 13 when the AgustaWestland AW139 helicopter crashed near Gillingham Hall in Norfolk, a special bulletin from the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) said.

"AAIB investigation to date has not identified any technical malfunction which might account for the accident," the bulletin concluded.

"The investigation continues, with the aim of identifying any technical matters of relevance, as well as focusing on flight in degraded visual environments."

The report said the helicopter had been scheduled to leave Gillingham Hall for Coventry Airport at 6.30pm but the passengers had not been ready to depart until around 7.20pm.

"By this time, night had fallen and dense fog had developed. Witnesses described visibility in the order of tens of metres," the bulletin concluded.

The pilots were captain Carl Dickerson (36) and co-pilot Lee Hoyle, while Lord Ballyedmond (70), right, who was believed to be Northern Ireland's richest man and Declan Small, who worked for the peer, were the passengers.

Yesterday's report said the helicopter lifted into a hover at 7.24pm and then hover-taxied to the middle of the paddock in which the helipad was sited. The captain briefed that he would climb vertically from the hover before setting course.

The report said that the aircraft climbed initially with very little ground speed.

"The final complete frame of the recorded data analysed to date showed a pitch altitude of 25 degrees nose-down, a radio altitude of 82ft agl and a ground speed of 90 knots (just over 103mph). The recorded rate of descent was 2,400ft per minute and increasing."

The AAIB said that in the final seconds of the flight the co-pilot made two verbal prompts to the captain regarding the aircraft's pitch attitude. Simultaneously, the recorded data showed that "full collective" - a full adjustment to the rotor blades' pitch angle - was applied.

The report said the aircraft struck the ground in a gently rising field about 420 metres from the take-off point. There was no evidence that the helicopter had made contact with any other object prior to this point.

Distribution of the wreckage indicated that, immediately after the main rotor blades struck the ground, the helicopter became airborne again and rotated clockwise before striking the ground 148ft (45m) beyond the first mark.

The investigation continues.

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