Cley helicopter crash: How the investigation will be carried out

PUBLISHED: 06:00 09 January 2014 | UPDATED: 08:53 09 January 2014

The scene at Cley after an American military helicopter crashed and another landed after the incident.
 Picture: Simon Finlay

The scene at Cley after an American military helicopter crashed and another landed after the incident. Picture: Simon Finlay

Archant Norfolk

The investigation team probing the US Pave Hawk crash on a nature reserve at Cley face a challenging scenario with wreckage spread over an area the size of a football pitch.

Teams of investigators will spend as long as it takes combing the area for any clues as to what caused of the catastrophic failure aboard the USAF Pave Hawk HH60 helicopter from RAF Lakenheath on Tuesday evening.

The difficult, marshy terrain at Cley was submerged during the recent winter storms and flooding, presenting the investigation team with a difficult task, particularly with live ammunition involved and with only one track in and out of the crash site.

A strict cordon remained in place around the nature reserve in Cley yesterday with a significant number of bullets from the crashed aircraft scattered across the area.

This cordon was not only for public safety but also to ensure that the site was not “polluted” or “corrupted” by sightseers and souvenir hunters as emergency services, US Air Force and HM Coroner assessed the site.

The Ministry of Defence and the Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) have said they are not directly involved in the investigation at this stage and according to Norfolk Police, it will take a number of days to carry out an inquiry due to the geography of the area and the munitions from the crashed helicopter among the debris.

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Speaking from the scene, Chief Superintendent Bob Scully said: “Police continue to work with various partner agencies to piece together the exact circumstances concerning the crash.

“It remains a challenging, lengthy process due to the difficult terrain and the size of the area needed to be assessed.

“This will remain a police-led operation until such time the Coroner is satisfied that the circumstances surrounding the deaths of the four occupants of the helicopter are non-suspicious.”

While Norfolk Police continue to head the crash, independent aviation analyst Chris Yates suggested that once the area is handed over to air accident investigators, the US military would eventually take the lead on the probe into the crash.

Mr Yates said: “The first part of the process will be to retrieve those who tragically died in the accident but secondly it will be to collect as much, if not all, of the wreckage that can be recovered.

“The recovery of the wreckage could prove difficult, particularly if the land had been under water until recently as the ground will be very muddy and getting vehicles in there to lift the wreckage could present potential challenges.

“From the crash site it will be taken off for a full forensic examination and that will include looking for things like metal fatigue.”

Investigators will be meticulous in their search for any clues as to what may have caused the accident, which claimed the lives of four US military personnel, before reaching their conclusions in a report.

It is unclear at this stage whether the full findings will be made public and that will depend on how sensitive, or classified, they are given that the Pave Hawk is used in combat scenarios involving special forces in covert operations and the retrieval of personnel from hostile territory.

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