DCSIMG

Ulster peer ‘among helicopter crash dead’

Lord Ballyedmond OBE (Edward Haughey) during his visit to Southern Regional College in Newry in 2012. 

Picture by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

Lord Ballyedmond OBE (Edward Haughey) during his visit to Southern Regional College in Newry in 2012. Picture by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

One of the people killed when a helicopter crashed in thick fog was Northern Ireland peer Lord Ballyedmond.

Lord Ballyedmond, one of the richest men in Northern Ireland, was chairman of Norbrook, the largest privately owned pharmaceutical company in the world.

According to the Register of Lords’ Interests, he owned Gillingham Hall, a stately home near the crash site.

He was killed with three other people when a helicopter came down in thick fog in a field in Gillingham, near Beccles, Norfolk, at 7.30pm on Thursday.

Emergency services were called and all four people on board were pronounced dead at the scene after it crashed in a field containing a wooded area, Norfolk Police said.

It is understood the victims have not yet been formally identified while officers contact their next of kin.

It was reported that the helicopter was flying to Northern Ireland, though police refused to comment on where it had taken off from or what its destination was.

Inspector Louis Provart said: “Emergency services are working together in difficult conditions to secure the scene and carry out an initial investigation into the circumstances.

“Our thoughts are with the family and loved ones of those who have sadly lost their lives this evening.”

Emergency services were called by members of the public who heard a loud crash, though Mr Provart would not say whether there was an explosion and refused to speculate on the cause of the crash.

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch has been informed and a team will be sent to investigate the crash, a spokesman said.

Three ambulances, two doctors and one rapid response car attended the scene, along with a police helicopter and fire services.

A spokeswoman for East of England Ambulance Service said: “Sadly, it is believed that four people in the helicopter are believed to have died in the crash. Ambulance resources have now been stood down from the scene. Our thoughts are with the family and friends of those who have lost their lives.”

Roland Bronk, owner of The Swan House inn and restaurant in Beccles, said it was “very foggy” in the area. Mr Bronk said he heard customers talk about “a lot of police activity and ambulances”.

One Twitter user, @andrew89mufc, said thick fog might have played a part in the crash, adding: “Helicopter crashed very close to my house in Gillingham tonight. I heard it flying over the house.

“I live in Worlingham on Park Drive. My garden backs onto the woodland leading to Gillingham. I heard a helicopter circling the house for about 15 mins at around 7:45. This may have been air ambulance or police searching though.”

He added: “Can’t see my hand in front of my face. No sign of scene of crash.”

Taxi driver Mark Murray, 22, from Beccles, said: “There is a large stately home nearby and you often see helicopters coming and going from there.

“When they have a game shoot the guests often all arrive in separate helicopters. We don’t know if that is linked, but that’s the only helicopter activity we see in this area.”

Helen Roberts, a forecaster at the Met Office, confirmed that large parts of East Anglia had been hit by mist.

She said: “There has certainly been some fog around south Norfolk, and the Norwich area has been in fog.

“There has been widespread mist around East Anglia and low visibility quite widely across East Anglia. Mist means low visibility, and it has been misty quite widely throughout the evening.”

Norfolk Police said the crash site will remain cordoned off today while officers continue a forensic examination of the scene. Roads in the area have been closed.

The scene is 45 miles from the spot where four crew members died when a US military helicopter crashed on a training mission in a nature reserve in Cley-next-the-Sea, Norfolk.

In January, a Pave Hawk from RAF Lakenheath was taking part in a low-flying training exercise when it came down.

Residents described hearing a “’heavy and very unusual’’ noise from the helicopter seconds before the crash, in which all four US crew members were killed.

Edward Haughey was made a life peer as Baron Ballyedmond of Mourne in 2004.

Ulster Unionist peer Lord Reg Empey has known the Haughey family for 25 years.

He said: “Lord Ballyedmond was one of the most successful entrepreneurs in Northern Ireland and indeed these islands. He brought high-quality employment opportunities to this country during its darkest days.

“This tragic accident has cut short the life of a man who had still much to give. The family circle will be numbed by the tragedy.”

Ulster Unionist Stormont assembly member Danny Kennedy said he was stunned.

He added: “Lord Ballyedmond was a determined businessman who brought much-needed employment to my own constituency of Newry and Armagh. He built a world class business from scratch and at the same time managed to base it locally.

“He will be sadly missed throughout the business community in Northern Ireland and wider afield. I offer my deepest sympathies to Lady Mary and the children.”

Lord Ballyedmond served in the upper houses of Britain and Ireland, in the Seanad in Dublin.

South Down SDLP MP Margaret Ritchie said he was unique.

“He was a major employer in the Co Down area and invested a lot of money.

“He got up and at it and he possessed those attributes required to make you a successful businessman but he also was a major employer and a lot of families had connections with him through that.”

She said there were unconfirmed reports another person killed in the helicopter was a young man from Mayobridge in Co Down, close to Newry where Norbrook is based.

 
 
 

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