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Inquest: Pilot 'warned Lord Ballyedmond of bad weather'

The inquest began yesterday into the death of Lord Ballyedmond, who died in a helicopter crash in Norfolk in 2014

LORD Ballyedmond had been told of concerns about taking off late in foggy conditions on the night his helicopter crashed killing him and three others, an inquest has heard.

The Co-Down multi-millionaire, also known as Edward Haughey, was killed when the Agusta Westland AW139 came down shortly after take-off near the estate he owned in Gillingham, Norfolk, on March 13 2014.

Dr Haughey's foreman, Declan Small (42) from Mayobridge, pilot Captain Carl Dickerson (36) from Lancashire and co-pilot Captain Lee Hoyle (45) from Cheshire, also died.

A jury inquest into their deaths, which opened in Norwich yesterday, heard Mr Dickerson had warned the helicopter needed to take off "no later than 7pm" because of the bad weather.

It did not take off until 7.22pm as Dr Haughey oversaw the hanging of pictures as part of his renovation of Gillingham Hall.

Ciara Cunningham, Dr Haughey's diary secretary, confirmed he had received the message and would have had no problem following Mr Dickerson's advice.

"He very much valued the opinion of experts in their field," she added.

His personal assistant Madeleine Irwin said in a statement: "Lord Ballyedmond would never insist on flying when a pilot said they could not fly".

Dr Haughey (70) who lived at Ballyedmond Castle in Co Down was considered to be one of Ireland's richest men, with an estimated wealth in excess of £800 million.

Best known as chairman and founder of Norbrook Laboratories, the largest privately-owned pharmaceutical company in the world, father-of-three Dr Haughey had a range of other business interests.

A life peer with a seat in the House of Lords, first on behalf of the Ulster Unionist Party before switching to the Conservative Party, he had also previously sat in the Seanad, the upper house of the Oireachtas.

His son, also called Edward (36), who is a chief executive within Norbrook, said he had a series of conversations with his father on the day of his death and last spoke to him as the helicopter was about to take off.

"He was joking and said 'I better do what I'm told or I'll get in trouble with the boys'," he said.

The timing of the flight had been arranged around Mr Small who was a valued employee and had a concert to attend the following day, he said.

Mr Haughey described his father as a "fantastic man" who had built a large business from humble beginnings.

He added: "Behind that success was a personality. He was funny, energetic, extremely kind and generous."

Earlier yesterday the widows of the pilot and co-pilot told the inquest of their heartbreak.

In a statement read to the court, Mr Hoyle's widow, Georgina Hoyle, said the former soldier was a conscientious man who would not take chances with safety.

"He was my best friend and losing him left our family devastated," she added.

Paula Dickerson, widow of Mr Dickerson, said in her statement: "The accident shook my world and took the love of my life from me."

Both women broke down in tears as their statements were read out.

Coroner Jacqueline Lake said the inquest would focus on events leading up to take-off, the training of the pilots particularly when taking off in low visibility, the weather conditions and the regulation of private helicopters.

Aviation pathologist Wing Commander Graeme Maidment found the two pilots and Mr Small died of head and chest injuries, while Lord Ballyedmond died of chest injuries.

An Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) report has already found that the crash may have been triggered by an error in perception along with a lack of training and procedures to handle the flight which took off in thick fog.

The inquest will resume today.

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