Belfast Telegraph

Norfolk helicopter crash: Four people feared dead as civilian craft on way to Northern Ireland crashes in fog

Police man a roadblock in Gillingham, near Beccles, Norfolk, as emergency services attend a helicopter crash in Norfolk
Police man a roadblock in Gillingham, near Beccles, Norfolk, as emergency services attend a helicopter crash in Norfolk
Norfolk Police are attending the scene of a helicopter crash

A helicopter which crashed in Norfolk, England, killing four people was on the way to Northern Ireland.

Emergency services were called at 7.30pm yesterday following reports the aircraft had come down in Gillingham, near Beccles, Norfolk, near the border with Suffolk.

All four people on board were pronounced dead at the scene after it crashed in a field containing a wooded area, Norfolk Police said.

The victims have not yet been named as officers inform their next of kin.

The accident site is near Gillingham Hall, a stately home owned by Northern Ireland peer Lord Ballyedmond.

The peer, also known as Dr Edward Haughey, is head of leading veterinary pharmaceuticals company Norbrook Laboratories

It was reported that the helicopter was flying to Northern Ireland, though police refused to comment on where it had taken off from or what its destination was.

Inspector Louis Provart said: "Emergency services are working together in difficult conditions to secure the scene and carry out an initial investigation into the circumstances.

"Our thoughts are with the family and loved ones of those who have sadly lost their lives this evening."

Emergency services were called by members of the public who heard a loud crash, though Mr Provart would not say whether there was an explosion and refused to speculate on the cause of the crash.

Lord Ballyedmond, also known as Dr Edward Haughey, is head of leading veterinary pharmaceuticals company Norbrook Laboratories
Lord Ballyedmond, also known as Dr Edward Haughey, is head of leading veterinary pharmaceuticals company Norbrook Laboratories

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch has been informed and a team will be sent to investigate the crash, a spokesman said.

Three ambulances, two doctors and one rapid response car attended the scene, along with a police helicopter and fire services.

A spokeswoman for East of England Ambulance Service said: "Sadly, it is believed that four people in the helicopter are believed to have died in the crash. Ambulance resources have now been stood down from the scene. Our thoughts are with the family and friends of those who have lost their lives."

Roland Bronk, owner of The Swan House inn and restaurant in Beccles, said it was "very foggy" in the area. Mr Bronk said he heard customers talk about "a lot of police activity and ambulances".

One Twitter user, @andrew89mufc, said thick fog might have played a part in the crash, adding: "Helicopter crashed very close to my house in Gillingham tonight. I heard it flying over the house.

"I live in Worlingham on Park Drive. My garden backs onto the woodland leading to Gillingham. I heard a helicopter circling the house for about 15 mins at around 7:45. This may have been air ambulance or police searching though."

He added: "Can't see my hand in front of my face. No sign of scene of crash."

Taxi driver Mark Murray, 22, from Beccles, said: "There is a large stately home nearby and you often see helicopters coming and going from there.

"When they have a game shoot the guests often all arrive in separate helicopters. We don't know if that is linked, but that's the only helicopter activity we see in this area."

Helen Roberts, a forecaster at the Met Office, confirmed that large parts of East Anglia had been hit by mist.

She said: "There has certainly been some fog around south Norfolk, and the Norwich area has been in fog.

"There has been widespread mist around East Anglia and low visibility quite widely across East Anglia. Mist means low visibility, and it has been misty quite widely throughout the evening."

Norfolk Police said the crash site will remain cordoned off today while officers continue a forensic examination of the scene. Roads in the area have been closed.

The scene is 45 miles from the spot where four crew members died when a US military helicopter crashed on a training mission in a nature reserve in Cley-next-the-Sea, Norfolk.

In January, a Pave Hawk from RAF Lakenheath was taking part in a low-flying training exercise when it came down.

Residents described hearing a "'heavy and very unusual" noise from the helicopter seconds before the crash, in which all four US crew members were killed.

Further reading

Interview with Norbrook boss Lord Ballyedmond (Edward Haughey)  

Series of fatal helicopter crashes

The Norfolk crash is the latest in a grim series of helicopter disasters air accident investigators have had to probe in recent years.

In this case, with thick fog reported in the area, it seems likely that the weather is going to be a major factor in the inquiry by the Farnborough-based Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) team.

Experts say it is easy for helicopter crews to become disorientated in adverse weather conditions.

Also, as has been proved in other crashes, the slightest thing going wrong with a helicopter can lead to disaster.

It is only a few weeks since Norfolk witnessed another fatal helicopter accident when four US service personnel were killed in a Pave Hawk crash.

Last November, the AAIB found itself looking into another deadly incident when 10 people, including three on board a Eurocopter EC135 helicopter, were killed when the aircraft fell on to a packed pub in Glasgow.

The AAIB is still investigating this incident but have issued interim reports, the latest of which said the helicopter suffered double engine failure.

Last August a Super Puma L2 carrying oil rig workers ditched in the North Sea. Four poeple died while 14 survived. The AAIB's investigation has found no evidence of any technical failure.

A Super Puma EC225 helicopter plunged into the water off the Aberdeenshire coast claiming 16 lives in April 2009. A fatal accident inquiry was eventually held and the findings were announced today.

The inquiry concluded that the accident could have been prevented. The AAIB had earlier said there was a catastrophic failure of the gearbox.

In January last year, London commuters witnessed a fatal incident in which a helicopter crashed into a crane during the rush hour in Vauxhall, south London.

Veteran pilot Pete Barnes died in the crash, as did Matthew Wood, 39, from Sutton, south London, as he walked to work. Five people were taken to hospital and seven were treated at the scene.

The North Sea accidents prompted the Civil Aviation Authority to issue a safety review last month. This sought to incorporate lessons learnt from the earlier tragedies.

Air investigators and transport minister Robert Goodwill are due to give evidence to the House of Commons Transport Committee on Monday in its investigation into offshore helicopter safety.

With the latest Norfolk crash, the AAIB could publish an interim report in the next few days which will outline the basic facts of the case, but a full report could take some time.

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