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Helicopter Crashed After Pilot Got Lost In Cloud

A helicopter pilot who became disoriented in cloud as he flew to Coventry said “we’re in trouble” shortly before crashing.

Three people died after the flight from Blackpool to Coventry on 1 February smashed into a hillside in Lancashire.

A report by the Air Accident Investigation Branch has found that Wayne Burgess, aged 32, from Coventry was the commander of the R44 helicopter.

He was alongside Neil Waterfall, aged 38, who was behind the controls as a training exercise to get used to the R44.

Also in the helicopter was passenger James Roe, aged 40, who was also killed. Both Mr Roe and Mr Waterfall were from Doveridge in Derbyshire.

The crew was flown to Blackpool in another helicopter to collect the R44, which was to be taken to Coventry for training.

The two helicopters agreed to fly back south together, using a route called the Manchester Low Level Route.

But as they got near Leyland, cloud forced the pilot of the R44 to fly even lower. He took a turn which took him close to high ground.

Controllers at a nearby radar station asked the pilot if he needed any help to get back on course.

He said:

“We’re in the actually in the cloud now, can you give us some vectors.”

The report describes the pilot’s flight path at this point as “erratic”. It found that neither pilot was qualified to fly by instruments alone, but the conditions were too poor to fly by sight.

The final words came from the helicopter at 4.45pm:

“Helicopter Golf Mike Echo we’re in trouble”.

The report said it was unlikely that any technical difficulty was responsible for the crash, and summarised:

“It is therefore most probable that the helicopter was flown into the cloud inadvertently and the handling pilot became disorientated.

“He was then unable to control the helicopter, which subsequently struck the ground.”

A full formal report analysing the incident in greater detail is yet to be prepared.
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CWN / Crimes, Fires & Accidents / 16 Aug 00
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