Norfolk helicopter crash: Norbrook boss Lord Ballyedmond had issued writ against the makers of helicopter
Millionaire tycoon Lord Ballyedmond had raised safety concerns with his helicopter's manufacturers months before the crash that killed him, it has emerged.
The 70-year-old peer had for many years been one of the brightest lights in Northern Ireland industry, amassing a fortune worth over £500million.
A self-made man, he grew his business into a vast empire which employed more than 1,500 people.
His AgustaWestland AW139 helicopter came down in thick fog in a field in Gillingham, near Beccles, Norfolk, at 7.30pm on Thursday, killing all four on board.
Lord Ballyedmond, also known as Edward Haughey, was travelling with employee Declan Small (42) from Mayobridge, and pilots Carl Dickerson and Lee Hoyle.
Prime Minister David Cameron led the tributes, describing him as "a towering figure in Northern Irish business life, and passionate about peace and good relations north and south, east and west".
"He was a larger than life figure who was a great supporter of the Conservative Party and a good friend to me," he added.
Yesterday it emerged that his company Haughey Air Ltd had lodged a writ against AgustaWestland over concerns about a helicopter supplied by it.
The case was lodged last September and is understood to have included concerns about in-flight mapping systems.
Legal papers, lodged at the High Court on September 20, said: "The aircraft suffered from a number of defects and reliability problems, including there being a big hole in one of its blades, oil leaks from the main gearbox, unexplained vibrations and failures of the IFEEL systems (internal entertainment, communication, lighting heating and electronic maps systems) and FIPS (full ice protection system).
"The repairs and modifications made to the aircraft by the defendant following delivery resulted in a total of 85 days during which the aircraft could not be used by the claimant between September 14, 2012 and April 30, 2013."
A spokesman for AgustaWestland said it could not comment but said it was investigating.
Speaking from the company's Italian office, he said: "We cannot comment now because we need to make internal checks to establish exactly what the situation is.
"We cannot yet comment on this accident because there is an investigation which is pending and there could be many causes, be them technical or due to human error.
"Obviously we are very much regretful of what happened and will support the ongoing investigation in any possible way."
In February 2012 an inquest heard in-flight technology systems on board AgustaWestland helicopters should be improved after a crash killed a friend of the Prince of Wales and two others in the Mourne Mountains in 2010.
Born Edward Haughey, Lord Ballyedmond owned Gillingham Hall near the crash site, states the Register of Lords' Interests.
He also owned Ballyedmond Castle in Rostrevor and property in London.
Tributes were paid to Lord Ballyedmond by Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, Secretary of State Theresa Villiers and Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster.
In a statement last night Norbrook Technologies spoke of its "sincere sadness and deep regret" at the loss of the chairman and CEO, and of the other three men.
It added: "Our thoughts are with the immediate families and friends of the deceased who have requested privacy at this difficult time.
"We take enormous pride in our chairman's extraordinary legacy in establishing Norbrook as a global veterinary and pharmaceutical industry leader."