Belfast Telegraph

Helicopter death crash jury calls for safety improvements

By Michael McHugh

Inflight technology systems should be updated to improve safety, a jury at the inquest into a helicopter crash which killed a friend of the Prince of Wales said.

The mapping databases display the height of terrain like mountains and whether certain areas are available to fly through but the four-day inquest in Belfast highlighted flaws.

The aircraft flew into the side of a cloud-shrouded mountain in the Mourne range, Co Down, in October 2010 as it carried a shooting party back to England.

The probe into the death of three people, including the Prince's friend Charles Stisted, heard how land above a certain height was not displayed and a prohibition on flying through South Armagh still showed although it was lifted several years earlier.

The jury of seven women and four men said: "We feel that as data storage technology advances a high priority should be given by the manufacturers to extend the range of terrain altitude displayed."

They added: "We recommend that the database be regularly updated to reflect information on the latest aviation charts."

There was also an out of date chart on display at St Angelo airport, Enniskillen, from where the pilot left.

The jury added: "We feel that the relevant authorities should consider whether there is a need to ensure that all aviation charts displayed where they may be reviewed, however inadvertently, by pilots, should be the current issue."

They said objections should not be solely based on economic grounds.

Mr Stisted, 47, chief executive of the Guards Polo Club at Windsor, was a passenger on the flight returning to England after attending an exclusive shooting party at an estate in Co Tyrone.

Construction company businessman and fellow polo player Ian Wooldridge, 52, and experienced pilot Anthony Smith, 63, formerly of the RAF and Army with service in Northern Ireland, also died.

The jury said in the absence of any conclusive medical evidence, while flying at an altitude 100ft below the summit of Mt Shanlieve the pilot had encountered "unpredictable and rapidly changing" weather conditions which led to the tragedy.

"The crash may have been avoided had the enhanced ground proximity warning system been in operation," they added.

The system was not powered at the time of the crash.

The jury recommended that when the system was installed it should be available should the pilot wish to use it.

Senior coroner John Leckey said he would write to the Civil Aviation Authority or a US body expressing the concerns.

The Skymap system illustrates the height of land like mountains, which pilot Smith crossed in poor weather. Above 2,000 feet there is nothing to show the height.

The Garmin guide aids navigation but in this case showed as prohibited an area of South Armagh which had been cleared for commercial flight.

The flight path taken from radar showed Mr Smith skirting it - flying straight into thick cloud which may or may not have obscured his visibility. He was travelling at a constant 150 knots when he hit the mountain, described by experts at the inquest as a "fast cruise".

Charts are the primary means of navigating when visibility is good.

The in-flight system and the map at St Angelo airport still showed the forbidden area in South Armagh but the pilot's chart had been updated.

Mr Leckey asked: "Might the combination of the two events have caused him to doubt his chart? We will never know."

Belfast Telegraph


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