Inquest into Gillingham helicopter crash hears from widows of pilots
- Credit: James Bass
An inquest has opened into the deaths of four men killed when a helicopter crashed in Gillingham, near Beccles, has opened in Norwich.
The hearing, into the deaths of self-made multi-millionaire Lord Ballyedmond, foreman Declan Small and helicopter pilots Captain Carl Dickerson and Captain Lee Hoyle, is expected to last four days and is being heard before a jury.
The crash happened on March 13, 2014 when the Agusta Westland AW139 came down shortly after take-off in foggy conditions near the estate Lord Ballyedmon, also known as Dr Edward Haughey, owned in Gillingham.
The 70-year-old businessman, who lived at Ballyedmond Castle in Co Down, Northern Ireland, was considered to be one of Ireland’s richest men, with estimated wealth in excess of £800 million.
Mr Small, 42, of Mayobridge, Co Down, was the site foreman at Lord Ballyedmond’s Norbrook plant in Newry.
Coroner Jacqueline Lake said the inquest would focus on events leading up to take-off, the training of the pilots particularly when taking off in low visibility, the weather conditions and the regulation of private helicopters.
In a statement read to the court, Georgina Hoyle, the widow of 45-year-old Captain Hoyle, of Macclesfield, Cheshire, told the inquest this morning that he was a conscientious man who would not take chances with safety.
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The father of one had served in the Army, including during the Gulf War, and was co-pilot on the day in question.
“He was my best friend and losing him left our family devastated,” said Mrs Hoyle.
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Paula Dickerson, widow of 36-year-old Mr Dickerson, of Thornton, Lancashire, said in her statement: “The accident shook my world and took the love of my life from me.
“He will be forever loved and missed by my family and I.”
Both women broke down in tears as their statements were read out.
Aviation pathologist Wing Commander Graeme Maidment found the two pilots and Mr Small died of head and chest injuries, while Lord Ballyedmond died of chest injuries.
An Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) report has already found that the crash may have been triggered by an error in perception along with a lack of training and procedures to handle the flight which took off in thick fog.
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.
A life peer with a seat in the House of Lords, first on behalf of the Ulster Unionist Party before switching to the Conservative Party, he had also previously sat in the upper house of the Republic of Ireland’s parliament, the Seanad.