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Probe into fatal helicopter crash

An air investigation is under way to discover what caused a helicopter to ditch into the sea, killing both men on board.

A major recovery operation was carried out after the aircraft was seen crashing into the sea at Flamborough, East Yorkshire, by a member of the public yesterday afternoon.

Witnesses reported hearing a loud "crack" before watching the the helicopter plummet into the sea below sheer 250 foot high cliffs.

The bodies were recovered shortly before 5pm, more than three hours after the accident.

A spokeswoman for the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) confirmed that a team had been sent to the scene to investigate.

Video footage released by the RNLI shows one lifeboat crew battling high seas in an attempt to reach the crash site.

The crew from Flamborough RNLI and a second boat from Bridlington were told to abandon the rescue mission and instead search the bay for wreckage.

Flamborough RNLI crew member Cole Ibbotson said: 'We could see the wreckage of the helicopter at the bottom of the cliff and could see where it had hit.

"The swell was too big for the lifeboat to get in close so we were tasked to undertake a search pattern for wreckage with Bridlington all-weather lifeboat. We recovered a number of items which we have passed on to the police.

'We are all devastated that this service didn't have a positive outcome and that we couldn't help the people on board the helicopter. Our thoughts and sympathy are very much with their family and friends tonight."

The helicopter had taken off from an airfield near Edinburgh yesterday morning and was due to refuel at Humberside Airport before continuing to its destination near Retford, Nottinghamshire.

A Humberside Police spokesman said: "Emergency services including the air ambulance, the coast guard and air sea rescue attended the area right away and a search was carried out which resulted in the helicopter being located in the sea off the coast of Flamborough near the light house.

"Two men were recovered from the aircraft shortly before 1700 hours. Both sadly deceased.

"The Air Accidents Investigation Branch will be leading the investigation into the incident to establish the circumstances which resulted in the aircraft crashing into the sea."

Chris Palmer, 33, a builder from Dunswell, East Yorkshire, spoke of his horror at witnessing the crash.

He said: "I was with my parents, we all saw the helicopter flying along the coastline, we heard a big crack and saw the helicopter start to descend like a plane and go behind the cliffs.

"By the time I got to the cliffs, there was no sign of it because it had gone under the water. We're in shock that it's happened. It's an absolute tragedy."

Golfers at Flamborough Head Golf Club said they thought the helicopter was trying to land near the club's 17th green.

Rod Marwood, 67, the course chairman at the club, said he was about 400 yards away when the helicopter crashed.

He said: "There were quite a few members out on the course and we see helicopters flying backwards and forwards all the time. This one was just a small, two to four seater one flying along. I didn't really take much notice of it when all of a sudden the engine noise changed.

"When I looked, it was already starting to bank a little bit. I thought it was trying to land on the edge of the golf course but it disappeared over the side of the cliffs.

"I didn't hear anything but I think it hit the cliffs before it went into the sea and then there was a smell of aviation fuel."

The rescue operation involved an RAF helicopter, coastguard, air ambulance, lifeboats and the ambulance service.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: "A search-and-rescue Sea King helicopter from RAF Leconfield (in East Yorkshire) was on a training exercise and was very quickly on the scene."

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency said: "The Humber Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre received a call at 1.40pm that a small helicopter had gone into the water below the cliff, between the lighthouse and Flamborough Head golf course.

"A coastguard officer was winched down to assess the crash site by the search and rescue helicopter from Leconfield."

A spokeswoman for Yorkshire Air Ambulance also had a crew at the scene and two lifeboats were launched.

Humberside Police said the crash site was potentially unsafe due to dangerous cliff edges and aviation fuel in the water and appealed to members of the public to avoid the area.

The accident is the latest in a series of helicopter crashes in recent months. The worst was the Glasgow incident last November when a helicopter on a police operation crashed on to the roof of a pub. Ten people died.

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