Norfolk

Lord Ballyedmond helicopter crash: Pilots 'impatient to take off'

The wreckage of the helicopter crash
Image caption The helicopter crashed in heavy fog shortly after leaving Lord Ballyedmond's stately home

Pilots of a helicopter that crashed in fog killing one of Northern Ireland's richest men were impatient to take off because of the worsening weather, an inquest heard.

Tory peer Lord Ballyedmond, 70, died when the helicopter came down near the estate he owned in Gillingham, Norfolk.

Pilot Capt Carl Dickerson, 36, co-pilot Capt Lee Hoyle, 45, and foreman Declan Small, 42, also died in the 2014 crash.

The inquest heard the fog was so thick RAF rescue crews could not land.

Mr Dickerson had warned the peer, also known as Dr Edward Haughey, the helicopter needed to take off "no later than 7pm" because of bad weather.

It did not in fact take off until 19:22 GMT as Dr Haughey oversaw renovations of Gillingham Hall, including selecting paint colours, decorator John Savage told the hearing.

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Media captionLord Ballyedmond helicopter footage released

Flt Lt Ian Smith, an on-call RAF search and rescue pilot at Wattisham airfield, Suffolk, told a jury inquest in Norwich that he was sent to the scene of the crash.

But even with night-vision goggles, radar and military training, his helicopter was unable to land because of low visibility, he said.

He added: "It was thick fog, we couldn't see anything below us."

Barry Dolby, who was working at the house, watched the helicopter take off.

He said: "I could not believe they took off in that fog.

"I've worked on oil rigs and any time there was a sign of fog we would be stuck until it cleared."

Painter-decorator John Savage, from Newry, County Down, said that at 19:15 GMT Mr Hoyle said: "We have to go now or we will be grounded."

He said Dr Haughey then left, although Mr Hoyle did not seem "stressed or concerned".

Image copyright Northern Ireland Executive
Image caption Lord Ballyedmond had an estimated wealth in excess of £800m

Plasterer Robert Graham said: "They said they needed to take off by 7pm or air traffic control would not let them fly because of the fog.

"They kept checking their watches."

Dr Haughey, 70, who lived at Ballyedmond Castle in Co Down, Northern Ireland, had an estimated wealth in excess of £800m.

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.

An Air Accidents Investigation Branch report has already found the crash may have been triggered by an error in perception along with a lack of training and procedures.

The inquest continues.

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