Video: First footage of Norfolk helicopter crash site in which four men, including Lord Ballyedmond, were killed
- Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2014
Police at the scene of a helicopter crash in south Norfolk in which four men have died have said roads nearby are likely to be closed for some time as the investigation continues.
Police and ambulance crews were called to Gillingham at 7.30pm last night and discovered the crash site after searching the area.
At an 8.30am news conference today, police confirmed that the four occupants of the civilian aircraft who died in the crash were all male, although did not name them. They were all male.
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It has been confirmed today that one of the people involved is Lord Ballyedmond, Edward Haughey, who owns Gillingham Hall.
Northern Ireland's richest man, with a personal wealth estimated at more than £500m, he is the owner of Norbrook Laboratories, a veterinary pharmaceutical company. The firm was reportedly lending assistance to the investigation.
One of the men who died with him has been named by media in Northern Ireland as Declan Small, 42, a foreman who worked for Lord Ballyedmond. He came from Mayobridge, Co Down.
Police have confirmed the helicopter as an AgustaWestland AW139.
In a statement released this morning they described the crash scene as 'a considerable area' that will need to be properly assessed in daylight. There remains a significant cordon around the site, which is standard practice for this type of incident.
The force is currently working on behalf of HM Coroner with partners, including the Air Accident Investigation Branch, to investigate the circumstances surrounding this incident.
Chief Superintendent Bob Scully said: 'On behalf of the force I would like to pass on my condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of those who have sadly lost their lives in this tragic incident.
'Police, along with our emergency service colleagues have been working through the night to secure the scene.
'Limited investigations have taken place so far due to the dark, cold and foggy conditions. However, with daylight and hopefully clearer conditions a more detailed examination of the crash site can get underway.
'At this time we do not know when the aircraft will be recovered. It is important that the public stay away from the area – the cordon is in place to allow our experts to carry out these processes safely.
'We appreciate the difficulty that the road closures will create and we apologise to those people that have been affected. There are two reasons why we have taken this action; the first is to allow investigators to assess whether there is any debris from the incident on the highway. The second is the close proximity of some of these roads to the crash site.'
At this morning's press conference, Chief Inspector Stuart Armes, confirmed that the bodies of the four men remain at the site of the crash.
He said the next of kin were still being informed, but confirmed that the victims were all male.
He said he did not yet know if the aircraft would be recovered today, which was why it was so important that the public stayed away from the scene.
Chief Insp Armes would not be drawn on whether there had been a distress call from the helicopter before the crash, or whether there had been any time to try to save the victims before they died.
At a press conference last night, Inspector Louis Provart said police had been alerted by members of the public who heard a loud bang.
He said: 'The adverse weather conditions are plain to see. It's extremely foggy, however whether that's a cause for the helicopter coming down, I would not want to speculate at this time.'
There was thick fog across the region last night and villagers in Gillingham reported that visibility was poor. It is believed the helicopter crashed in woodland and there were no flames.
Police were at the scene overnight, with a search of the area and investigation into the cause of the crash continuing from dawn.
The tragedy comes two months after four airmen from RAF Lakenheath were killed when their Pave Hawk helicopter crashed on a training flight in Cley.
James Tuttle, 41, from nearby Geldeston, saw the helicopter come down.
He said: 'We used to see him coming and going in his helicopter from our back garden all the time. At about 7pm we noticed the helicopter coming in very low and at an unusual 45-degree angle.
'We didn't hear any bang or explosion - it just seemed to be flying in a strange way.
'The fog wasn't that bad at the time - just patchy - it only got worse about an hour after the crash happened.'
Michael Tabby described how he joined last night's search after hearing 'a loud bang' and an engine subsiding.
He said: 'I was outside McDonalds with my friend when we heard a helicopter coming in quite low.
'It sounded like it was in difficulty and was trying to land opposite where there is a private helicopter landing pad.
'It sounded as though it then tried to climb and crossed the road in the direction of Norwich and then there was a loud bang followed by the sound of an engine winding down.
'My friend called the police and we tried searching the fields opposite with two other men, but we could not find anything.'
Further eyewitness accounts were soon circulating on social networks.
One Twitter user, Andrew89mufc, described hearing the helicopter coming down near his house.
He wrote: 'I live in Worlingham on Park Drive. My garden backs on to the woodland leading to Gillingham. I heard a helicopter circling the house for about 15 mins at around 7:45. This may have been air ambulance or police searching tho.'
A spokesman for the East of England Ambulance Service (EEAST) said it had been called at 7.45pm to reports of a helicopter crash near Gillingham, and sent two ambulance officers, three ambulances, two doctors and one rapid-response car.
She said: 'Sadly, it is believed that four people in the helicopter have died in the crash. Ambulance resources have now been stood down from the scene. Our thoughts are with the family and friends of those who have lost their lives tonight.'
Lorraine Greenwood, who lives in Church Road, Gillingham, said: 'From about eight o'clock there
have been loads of police cars, fire engines and ambulances going past here.
'I don't think they were sure where it was in the fog because some were going round the roundabout and back again.
'I didn't hear any crash, but I did see two other helicopters that looked like police helicopters circling.'
She added that the owner of Gillingham Hall had a helicopter.
She said: 'He's got a helipad there and he does fly in on a Thursday night.'
Taxi driver Mark Murray, 22, from Beccles, said: 'There is a large
stately home nearby and you often see helicopters coming and going from there. When they have a game shoot the guests often all arrive in separate helicopters.
'We don't know if that is linked, but that's the only helicopter activity we see in this area.'
A spokesman for the Air Accidents Investigation Branch said it would be sending a team to investigate.
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