Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Fatal helicopter crash prompts new aircraft laws

New regulations governing the operation of non-commercial complex aircraft are to be introduced next year as a result of the helicopter crash in which the owner of Norbrook Laboratories, Edward Haughey, and three others died in March last year.

An investigation into the crash with caused the deaths of Lord Ballyedmond, his employee Declan Small from Mayobridge, pilot Carl Dickerson and co-pilot Lee Hoyle, heard how “an error in perception” – known as the somatogravic illusion – may have caused the Agusta AW139 G-LBAL helicopter to crash just 460 yards after taking off from the Tory peer’s home at Gillingham Hall in Norfolk at around 7.20pm on March 14th 2014.

Investigators also blamed a lack of training and procedures to handle the flight, which took off in thick fog.

Take-off had originally been set for about 6.30pm, but by the time the passengers were ready to leave, a dense fog had reduced visibility to “the order of tens of metres”, according to the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) report.

The investigators said that because the flight was from a private landing site, there was no requirement for a particular minimum visibility.  The take-off would not have been permitted from a licensed aerodrome, the report stated.

The AAIB examined the contents of the cockpit voice and flight data recorder, which contained a pre-flight conversation between the pilots, during which one said he was not very happy “about lifting out of here”.

The helicopter had reached an altitude of 82ft above ground and a ground speed of 90 knots (just over 103mph) when it crashed nose-down in a field.  It hit a line of large hay bales lying in the ploughed field and the “cabin structure was destroyed”, according to the report.

In the final few seconds, the co-pilot had made two verbal prompts to the captain regarding the aircraft’s pitch attitude. Recorded data showed that steps had been taken to rectify this.

The helicopter manufacturer said that, based on the recorded data, “the helicopter had responded appropriately to the crew inputs”.

The investigators concluded: “Evidence suggests that the flight crew may have been subject to somatogravic illusion caused by the helicopter’s flight path and the lack of external visual cues.

“The absence of procedures for two-pilot operation, the pilot’s lack of formal training in such procedures, and the limited use of the automatic flight control system, may have contributed to the accident.”

Chairman and founder of Norbrook Laboratories, the largest privately-owned pharmaceutical company in the world, Lord Ballyedmond had an estimated wealth in excess of £800m.