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Widows tell inquest of heartbreak after Lord Ballyedmond helicopter crash

Published 12/01/2016

Forensic officers examine the wreckage of a helicopter after four people died when it came down in thick fog in a field in Gillingham
Forensic officers examine the wreckage of a helicopter after four people died when it came down in thick fog in a field in Gillingham

The widows of a pilot and co-pilot killed when their helicopter crashed while carrying a Conservative peer and leading industrialist have told an inquest of their heartbreak.

Self-made multi-millionaire Lord Ballyedmond was killed on March 13 2014 when the helicopter came down shortly after take-off in foggy conditions near the estate he owned in Gillingham, Norfolk.

Also known as Dr Edward Haughey, the 70-year-old businessman, 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 (1.06bn euro).

Declan Small, 42, of Mayobridge, Co Down, Dr Haughey's site foreman at the Norbrook plant in Newry, also died in the crash.

Helicopter pilot Captain Carl Dickerson, 36, of Thornton, Lancashire, and co-pilot Captain Lee Hoyle, 45, of Macclesfield, Cheshire, were also killed when the Agusta Westland AW139 crashed.

A jury inquest into their deaths, which is expected to last four days, opened in Norwich on Tuesday.

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.

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

The father of one had served in the Army, including during the Gulf War.

"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.

"He will be forever loved and missed by my family and I."

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

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.

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 Seanad.

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