Actions of pilots hailed by teacher

The scene from Thornton looking across the River Wyre
The scene from Thornton looking across the River Wyre
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A CARLETON teacher who witnessed a stricken helicopter being directed away from homes and schools has praised the actions of the pilots.

Father-of-one Philip Gray, 45, of Bradshaw Lane, Mawdesley, was on a flying lesson with pilot Steven Lewis, 38, from Rainhill on Merseyside, when they were killed after their helicopter came down on Barnaby’s Sands, near Knott End, Over Wyre, on September 22 2009.

Witness John Howard-Pritchard, a retired school teacher, told an inquest into their deaths how he heard a high-pitched noise coming from the engine of the helicopter which flew over his house just before noon.

Mr Howard-Pritchard said:

“I truly believe the two pilots of the aircraft, which at this point was a stricken aircraft, avoided the chance of putting it down in school playing fields.

“They did in fact turn the aircraft towards the River Wyre and open ground thus avoiding even greater tragedy.”

He thanked them for their “brave and selfless actions” steering the helicopter from the built-up area, including his daughter’s school.

He added: “I feel the residents of Carleton and Poulton-le-Fylde owe these two men a debt of gratitude.”

The families of both men thanked Mr Howard-Pritchard for his words during the inquest at Preston Coroner’s Court.

Describing seeing the two-seater aircraft, he told the inquest: “It sounded like it was misfiring. After it flew over, it changed direction suddenly, from east to north-east.

“It dropped in height at one stage then regained height. It was a matter of four or five minutes that I watched it. As it flew off, I lost sight of it.”

At 12.10pm, Mr Howard-Pritchard said he was inside his house when he heard a loud “thump”.

Coroner James Adeley said passenger Mr Gray, managing director of Adlington-based construction firm Naylor and Walkden, and pilot Mr Lewis said the pair would have died instantly.

The wreckage of the aircraft was found at 12.50pm on the river bank, 45 minutes after a final mayday call had been made. The jury inquest will resume this morning with evidence from the Air Accident Investigation Branch.