Glasgow & West Scotland

Colin McRae's neighbour describes helicopter crash

Crash debris
Image caption The helicopter crashed in Lanark in September 2007

A fatal accident inquiry (FAI) has heard of the last moments of a helicopter flight which crashed killing Colin McRae and three other people.

A neighbour of the champion rally driver said the aircraft was not on its normal flight path before it came down.

Farmer David Lowrie said he lost sight of the helicopter before seeing part of its rotor blade spiralling upwards.

Mr McRae, 39, was at the controls when the aircraft crashed near his home in Lanark in September 2007.

He died with his five-year-old son Johnny, school friend Ben Porcelli, six, and 37-year-old Graeme Duncan.

The FAI into the crash, which is expected to last several months, entered its second day on Tuesday at Lanark Sheriff Court.

Image caption Clockwise from left, Mr McRae, his son Johnny, Ben Porcelli and Graeme Duncan died in the crash

Mr Lowry, 52, of Cartland, Lanark, said he was out feeding his cattle when he saw the aircraft come overhead.

He said it veered to the right and then sharply to the left before it went into a valley and he lost sight of it.

He said: "I realised the helicopter didn't come out of the valley again.

"On glancing across the valley as I came out of the field, I could see what appeared to be part of the helicopter rotor arm spiral up into the sky.

"I realised then that something tragic had happened."

Mr Lowry, who said he rented land from the motorsport star's family, added: "As the rotor arm spiralled up in the air I could see it glisten in the sun against the dark green trees."

The witness said he did not hear any irregular engine noise when the helicopter went past and the height and speed of the craft were normal.

But he said it was not taking its regular flight path to Mr McRae's home at Jerviswood House.

He said: "He normally didn't come in that route whatsoever."

Flying licence

Last year, a report by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) found no technical reason for the crash, but said a technical fault could not be ruled out.

The official report, published in February, also found that Mr McRae did not have a valid flying licence at the time of the crash.

It said Mr McRae was "undertaking a demanding manoeuvre" before the Eurocopter Squirrel aircraft hit trees and crashed.

The aircraft came down just 150 yards from the landing strip at the McRae family's home.

The findings revealed that passenger Graeme Duncan had recorded video footage on a camcorder during the helicopter's flight prior to the crash.

This was recovered from the wreckage and viewed by investigators to help them piece together the moments before impact.

The AAIB report said the mood on the helicopter was jovial and the passengers could be heard shouting and laughing, "enjoying the experience".

Following that report, Ben Porcelli's parents accused Mr McRae of taking "unnecessary risks" and said the crash was "completely avoidable".

In a statement to the FAI on Monday, the Porcelli's said Mr McRae had not sought their permission to take their son on the helicopter.

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