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Concern over low flying aircraft in wake of Cley helicopter crash

PUBLISHED: 07:03 10 January 2014 | UPDATED: 13:26 10 January 2014

The scene of the helicopter crash at Cley. Picture: Antony Kelly

The scene of the helicopter crash at Cley. Picture: Antony Kelly

Archant Norfolk 2014

Concerns over low flying aircraft passing over north Norfolk’s wildlife-filled marshes have been raised in the wake of Tuesday’s fatal helicopter crash.

One birding enthusiast said the popular beauty spots were “inappropriate” for such exercises and residents have said it was worrying to learn the Pave Hawk that came down in Cley was carrying live ammunition.

The MoD said the helicopter had been on a “normal” training mission and flying legally within the low flying area.

But the crash has brought concerns to the fore.

Chris Mills, who runs Norfolk Birding tours, said: “I have had the experience of a helicopter hovering over my head to the point where I could see the pilot. It’s obviously not a suitable area to do it over, it’s not like it’s a very remote environment. The north Norfolk coast is very busy.”

Sarah Whittley, co-owner of the Pinkfoot gallery in Cley High Street, echoed Mr Mills’ sadness over the loss of life but questioned the need for live ammunition, and the choice of location.

“They’re so close to our heads, it’s not like they’re far away. It (the crash site) is less then a mile away from the village,” she added.

Brendan Joyce, chief executive of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust which manages Cley marshes, said the group had some concerns about exercises, but did not think it was the time “to start raising these issues” so soon after the tragedy.

The north Norfolk coast has long been in the flight path for military craft, but villagers said in the last few weeks they had noticed some coming particularly low.

Richard Kelham, chairman of Cley Parish Council, said worries over aircraft movements were not as bad as they were 15 - 20 years ago, when Norfolk was home to more RAF bases, but if the situation could be improved it would be “welcomed”.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said his first thoughts were with the families of those who died, but added: “We have got to be prepared to look at what lessons need to be learned for this.

“One understands there has to be training sessions but obviously they have got to be undertaken as safely as possible.”

The MoD has regulations for all aircraft flying in UK airspace, including rules for low flying areas.

A spokesman said seasonal “avoids” can also be flagged, so exercises do not interfere with events such as wildlife migration. Any need to review low flying rules would have to wait until the outcome of the crash investigation, they added.

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