Thursday, February 23, 2012

Jury considering helicopter crash considers verdict

A jury considering the helicopter crash deaths of three people, including a friend of the Prince of Wales, has retired to consider its verdict.

Charles Stisted, Ian Wooldridge, and pilot Anthony Smith, died when their aircraft hit Shanlieve Mountain in the Mournes in County Down in October 2010.

They were from England and had been on a visit to Northern Ireland.

The helicopter crashed in an area known locally as Leitrim Lodge, between Hilltown and Rostrevor.

The Prince's friend Mr Stisted, 47, chief executive of the Guards Polo Club at Windsor, was a passenger on the flight and had been returning to England after attending an exclusive shooting party at an estate in County Tyrone.

Mr Wooldridge, 52, was a construction company businessman and fellow polo player.

Experienced pilot Anthony Smith, 63, was formerly of the RAF and army with service in Northern Ireland.

Senior coroner John Leckey told the jury of seven women and four men, Mr Smith was a "safe pair of hands".

"It is difficult to think of any pilot who would have had more experience than Mr Smith, it really was an exceptional career," he said.

He added Air Accident Investigation Bureau inspectors had been forced to use informed speculation about why the accident occurred because they were unable to reach a firm evidence-based conclusion.

Among the possibilities are that the pilot was subtly incapacitated, although no signs of ill health were uncovered, or that his vision was obscured, although there is no proof of that either.

Another "imponderable" is whether he declined to fly high over the mountains for fear of ice or did not go to flatter land because of incorrect information.

His route showed him skirting an area which was prohibited until relatively recently. An in-flight system and a map at St Angelo airport, Enniskillen, where he left from still showed the forbidden area but his chart had been updated.

Mr Leckey asked: "Might the combination of the two events have caused him to doubt his chart? We will never know."

The plane collided with Shanlieve Mountain 118ft below the summit. A ground proximity warning system was not working.

"It is terrible to think if the aircraft had been flying 120ft higher there would not have been a crash and we would not be sitting here today," Mr Leckey said.

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