A coroner has opened an inquest into the deaths of four people – including two with Fylde coast links – who died when a helicopter crashed in thick fog in Norfolk.
The Agusta Westland AW139 came down in thick fog last Thursday, killing Cpt Carl Dickerson, 36 of Thornton, his colleague Cpt Lee Hoyle, 45, Declan Small, 42, and 70-year-old Conservative peer Lord Ballyedmond.
Cpt Dickerson and Cpt Hoyle were well respected pilots at Blackpool Airport.
At a brief hearing today, Norfolk Coroner Jacqueline Lake confirmed that post mortems had revealed that all four men on the helicopter died as a result of sustaining head and chest injuries.
“For reasons yet unknown, the helicopter crashed shortly after take-off and all four men on board died instantly,” said the coroner.
The millionaire peer’s AW139 helicopter came down on March 13 in a field at Gillingham on the Norfolk-Suffolk border, a short distance from Gillingham Hall, a stately home and 55 acre estate which Lord Ballyedmond bought in 2005 for £2.25m.
It is believed it ploughed into a tree and a line of circular hay bales when it hit the field before spinning around and coming to a halt about 400 yards from the country mansion.
Simon Menzies, managing director at Pool Aviation paid tribute to Cpt Dickerson, who began his career at the resort’s airport several years ago.
He said: “He flew many different types of machine.
“He was an accomplished flight instructor who was extremely capable, professional and conscientious with an unblemished safety record to the best of my knowledge.”
Mr Menzies added: “Lee Hoyle was a very enthusiastic and talented co-pilot who had flown many different types of aircraft and had an inexhaustible appetite for safety and professional procedures.”
A spokeswoman for the Air Accident Investigation Branch said that an investigation into the tragedy was ongoing and declined to comment.
Lord Ballyedmond made his name as a superbly successful entrepreneur, who rose from humble beginnings to become Northern Ireland’s richest man, with a fortune estimated last year at £860 million.
But the peer – who bought Corby Castle in 1994 – occupied a unique position in politics.
He was the first person since the Marquess of Lansdowne in the 1920s to sit in both upper houses of the British and Irish parliaments, first as a senator in Dublin and later as a peer in the House of Lords.
It has now emerged that he played key role in Northern Ireland’s 1998 peace process.
He has been credited with persuading the Ulster Unionists to back the Good Friday Agreement because he believed it secured the union.