‘It should be ok, you can see the moon’ said pilot ahead of tycoon copter crash

Lord Ballyedmond
Lord Ballyedmond

One of Lord Ballyedmond’s pilots expressed concerns about taking off in thick fog just moments before their helicopter crashed killing all on-board, an inquest has heard.

Lord Ballyedmond, also known as Dr Edward Haughey, was killed when the Agusta Westland AW139 came down shortly after take-off near the estate he owned in Gillingham, Norfolk, on March 13 2014.

Dr Haughey’s foreman, Declan Small, 42, of Mayobridge, Co Down, Northern Ireland; pilot Captain Carl Dickerson, 36, of Thornton, Lancashire; and co-pilot Captain Lee Hoyle, 45, of Macclesfield, Cheshire, also died.

Excerpts of a cockpit recording were read to an inquest in Norwich which is due to conclude on Friday.

In it, one of the pilots said: “I don’t mind telling you I’m not very happy about lifting out of here.”

The other pilot replied: “It should be okay ... because you can still see the moon.”

It is not possible to distinguish which pilot said what.

Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) expert John Atkinson said that had the helicopter been at a licensed aerodrome, it would not have been allowed to take off in such fog. Private helipads are not subject to such regulations.

Another AAIB investigator, Peter Wivell, said the pilot may have suffered from an optical illusion caused by the fog.

A lack of visual cues would have caused him to become disorientated and he may have felt like he was pitching up when he was in fact flying level meaning he over-corrected and steered the nose down.

No mechanical defects were found on the helicopter, he added.

Earlier the inquest was shown mobile phone footage of the helicopter taking off in thick fog.

The person filming is heard remarking: “They’re taking off blind.”

The inquest has heard Mr Dickerson had warned the helicopter needed to take off “no later than 7pm” because of bad weather.

It did not in fact take off until 7.22pm as Dr Haughey oversaw the hanging of pictures as part of his renovation of Gillingham Hall.

Dr Haughey, 70, 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.

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.

It is the latest instalment of the hearings around his death.