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Pilot 'warned Lord Ballyedmond of bad weather' ahead of fatal helicopter crash

Published 12/01/2016

Four people died in the accident
Four people died in the accident
Lord Ballyedmond with his widow, Mary, who is now deputy chair of Norbrook, at their home in Rostrevor
Lord Ballyedmond
The funeral of Lord Ballyedmond, a Northern Ireland peer killed in a helicopter crash in England. Pic Arthur Allison
The funeral of Lord Ballyedmond, a Northern Ireland peer killed in a helicopter crash in England. Pic Arthur Allison
The funeral of Lord Ballyedmond, a Northern Ireland peer killed in a helicopter crash in England. Pic Arthur Allison
The funeral of Lord Ballyedmond, a Northern Ireland peer killed in a helicopter crash in England. Pic Arthur Allison
The funeral of Lord Ballyedmond, a Northern Ireland peer killed in a helicopter crash in England. Pic Arthur Allison
The funeral of Lord Ballyedmond, a Northern Ireland peer killed in a helicopter crash in England. Pic Arthur Allison

Tory peer and self-made millionaire 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.

Lord Ballyedmond, also known as Dr 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.

Pilot Carl Dickerson
Pilot Carl Dickerson

Dr Haughey's foreman, Declan Small, 42, of Mayobridge, Co Down, Northern Ireland; pilot Captain Carl Dickerson, 36, of Thornton, Lancashire; and co-pilot Captain Lee Hoyle, 45, of Macclesfield, Cheshire, also died.

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

It did not in fact 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, Northern Ireland, was considered to be one of Ireland's richest men, with 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 upper house of the Republic of Ireland's parliament, the Seanad.

His son, Edward Haughey, 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 added: "He was joking and said 'I better do what I'm told or I'll get in trouble with the boys'."

Co-pilot Lee Hoyle
Co-pilot Lee Hoyle

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."

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."

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.

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

The inquest will resume on Wednesday.

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