Gillingham: No Technical Faults With Helicopter That Crashed

Air accident investigators have so far found no evidence of a technical malfunction which might account for the helicopter crash on the Norfolk/Suffolk border, which killed Tory peer Lord Ballyedmond and three other people.

The Augusta AW139 crashed just 460 yards (420m) after taking off in dense fog from the peer's home at Gillingham Hall on the evening of March 13, a special bulletin from the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) said.

The report said the craft had been scheduled to leave for Coventry Airport at 6.30pm but the passengers - Lord Ballyedmond, 70, and Declan Small, 42, who worked for the peer - "were not ready to depart until around 7.20pm".

It went on: "By this time, night had fallen and dense fog had developed; witnesses described visibility in the order of tens of metres."

From viewing a video recording of the helicopter's departure and looking at evidence from the aircraft's "black box" recorders and talking to witnesses, the AAIB team gave a detailed account of the fatal flight.

The helicopter had only reached an altitude of 82ft (25m) above ground level and a ground speed of 90 knots (just over 103mph),  according to the final complete frame of recorded data analysed to date.

It crashed nose-down in a field, with the distribution of the wreckage indicating that it had become airborne again before coming to rest upright 207ft (63m) from the initial impact spot.

In the final few seconds of the flight the co-pilot, Lee Hoyle, had made two verbal prompts to the captain, Carl Dickerson, 36, regarding the aircraft's pitch attitude. Recorded data showed that steps had been taken to rectify this.

The AAIB said both engines had been operating during the impact sequence, the rotor head was able to turn freely, the drive shaft had been rotating and the tail rotor drive shaft was able to rotate freely.

The bulletin concluded: "AAIB investigation to date has not identified any technical malfunction which might account for the accident.

"The investigation continues, with the aim of identifying any technical matters of relevance, as well as focusing on flight in degraded visual environments."

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