Lord Ballyedmond helicopter crash: families say deaths caused by ‘preventable accident’

January 18, 2016

The families of Norbrook founder Lord Ballyedmond and his employee Declan Small say the helicopter crash which claimed the lives of the two men along with pilot Carl Dickerson and co-pilot Lee Hoyle, was “a preventable accident.” Their comments came as the inquest into the deaths of the four men, which concluded last Friday, ruled that their deaths were accidental

Coroner Jacqueline Lake said she would be raising concerns over regulations controlling flights from private land.

The judicial inquiry, which concluded last Friday focussed 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.

It had heard from Air Accident Investigator Mark Jarvis on Thursday that the helicopter “had no identifiable defects” which would have affected the flight from Lord Ballyedmond’s estate in Gillingham, Norfolk on 13th March 2014.

The private helicopter took off in thick fog from the estate and crashed seconds later.

The jury had earlier viewed mobile phone footage of the take-off filmed by a worker on the estate expressing his concerns about the foggy conditions, commenting “They’re taking off blind.”

In the footage, one of the pilots was heard saying he was”not very happy about lifting out of here.”

The other replies: “It should be ok because you can still see the moon.”

Moments after the words “nose down” were spoken from the cockpit, the helicopter ploughed into a line of hay bales in a field near the take off site.

The inquest heard the two pilots were experienced but there was no evidence either had been trained in taking off vertically in low visibility.

An on-call RAF search and rescue pilot at Wattisham airfield, Suffolk, who had been sent to the scene of the crash, also described how the fog was so thick that he could not land, even with military equipment.

The court was told that Lord Ballyedmond, also known as Dr Edward Haughey, the owner of Norbrook laboratories in Newry, had been told of concerns about taking off late in foggy conditions.

Pilot Carl Dickerson had warned that, due to the bad weather, the helicopter needed to take off “no later than 7pm” but 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, Ciara Cunningham confirmed he had received the message and insisted that he “very much valued the opinion of experts in their field,” and would have had no problem following Mr Dickerson’s advice.

His personal assistant Madeleine Irwin also said in a statement that Lord Ballyedmond “would never insist on flying when a pilot said they could not fly.”

His son, Edward Haughey (36), confirmed that he had several conversations with his father on the day of the crash and last spoke to him as the Agusta Westland AW139 was about to take off, when his father joked “I better do what I’m told or I’ll get in trouble with the boys’.

He described the self made millionaire as a “fantastic man” who had built a large business from humble beginnings and said he was “funny, energetic, extremely kind and generous.”

The widows of both pilots also expressed their heartbreak to their court, with Co-Pilot Lee Hoyle’s widow Georgina describing Mr Hoyle as her “best friend.” She said his death had left his family “devastated.” Paula Dickerson, pilot Carl Dickerson’s widow, said in her statement: “The accident shook my world and took the love of my life from me.”

An Air Accident Investigation Branch report had already concluded that the crash may have been triggered by an error in perception, along with a lack of training and procedures.

Following Friday’s verdict, a statement was read out on behalf of the families of Lord Ballyedmond and Mr Small.

It read “It is still a mystery why the pilots did not comply with the operations manual and adopt safe take off procedures or why they chose to de-select the autopilot while attempting to take off, at night, in dense fog.

“The families continue to believe after this week of evidence that this was a preventable accident.”