Calls for low-flying ban at Cley nature reserve following helicopter crash

PUBLISHED: 09:33 10 July 2014 | UPDATED: 10:53 10 July 2014

USAF Helicopter crash at Cley. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

USAF Helicopter crash at Cley. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2014

People living and working around the scene of the helicopter crash are still concerned about future low-flying aircraft over the reserve.

USAF Helicopter crash at Cley. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY USAF Helicopter crash at Cley. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

And community leaders have said a ban is the only way to stop a similar tragedy happening again.

Cley Town Council chairman Richard Kelham said he hoped the report would lead to the end of military training over the reserve, calling the disaster an “unnecessary loss of life”.

A flying ban over the Norfolk Wildlife Trust-owned land is also backed by the trust’s head of nature reserves, Kevin Hart. He said the trust would continue to call for a permanent, year-round, no-low-flying zone over Cley similar to the one over the trust’s Hickling reserve.

“While it is absolutely tragic and we did work very closely with the military, whether the crash had happened or not we would continue to lobby,” said Mr Hart.

The trust’s main concern was the protection of wildlife at the reserve, and Mr Hart said there was currently a restriction in the breeding season which ran from April to July.

Highlighting the effects of the tidal surge on the marshes, he said: “Things did change quite substantially, especially with the flood water but we can’t say with any certainty. We can say we know large flocks of birds will move in the evening and at night – that is obviously what happened.”

The crash, on January 7, came weeks after the storms which flooded the marshes and crashed through sea defences on December 5.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said he met US Air Force and RAF liaison staff last week where he was told the crash had a “one in a million chance” of happening. Training routes were dictated by wildlife movements and the impact of the surge could have altered where the geese were expected to be.

He said: “We need to focus on the families who have lost loved ones and the tragedy for those families.

“This is an extraordinary combination of circumstances. It was described to me as a perfect storm and the helicopter appears to have disturbed birds that would not normally have been there.”

And while the wreckage has been cleared and the coastal path rebuilt, Peter McKnespiey, who owns Cookie’s Crab Shop, said he remembered hearing the helicopters fly over on the night of the crash. He said: “There were a lot of birds about that evening, I could hear them coming in.”

Having been in the forces, Mr Mcknespiey said he understood why the military aircraft needed to fly.

He said: “They have to do their training.”

Mr Kelham said: “When it happened our gut reaction was that it might have been a bird strike...”

He said nothing could be done to prevent it happening again, adding: “Short of flying barrage balloons I cannot see how we can possibly stop it.”

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