Three men on hunting trip killed in Mournes helicopter crash
THREE men died during a shooting expedition when the helicopter they were travelling in crashed into the side of a mountain.
The two passengers and pilot -- who are understood to be from south-east England -- had refuelled in Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, shortly before getting into difficulty and crashing into the Mourne Mountains in Co Down.
The helicopter can hold up to eight passengers and it had initially been feared that the death toll would be much higher. However, PSNI officers confirmed that three bodies were taken from the wreckage.
Last night, an investigation to determine the cause of the crash was launched. It was a clear day so it is not yet known if the tragic accident was weather related or due to a failure on board the Agusta 109 helicopter.
Investigating officers have not yet confirmed whether a distress signal was issued before the crash, which occurred at around 4pm on Saturday.
Mountain rescue teams, the coastguard and air-accident investigators were alerted when a member of the public reported seeing an aircraft in distress. The crash site was located near Hilltown some time later.
Last night, the bodies of the three men, who were out for a day of duck shooting, were removed from the scene. The PSNI has been liaising with British police in order to inform their families.
The aircraft -- which is believed to be privately owned -- is usually based in Redhill in Surrey, England. However, it refuelled in Fermanagh on Saturday afternoon a short time before the crash.
The scene has now been preserved and evidence will now be catalogued and removed for further examination.
Raymond Farrell, UUP Councillor for Fermanagh District Council, said: "This is a terrible tragedy which has left a sense of shock in the Fermanagh community.
"The group had spent time in Fermanagh enjoying the weekend only for this horrible accident to occur in the evening hour. Our thoughts go out to their family and friends in their deep sense of loss."
DUP councillor Jim Wells said the entire community was "shocked and saddened" by the news of the crash.
"There was no chance of survival for the people in this helicopter and what had been a good day out for this group has turned into an awful tragedy," he said.
"I was on a tour of the Mournes on Saturday and it was a lovely calm day, so I don't believe the accident was weather related.
"I had heard the helicopter was at a height to avoid the rotor blades developing ice."
MP Margaret Ritchie added: "The level of enjoyment derived by the men during their sporting endeavours is in stark contrast to the conditions in which they died.
"South Down is in shock and I would like to offer my sympathy on behalf of all the people of south Down to the family and friends of those who lost their lives." She also paid tribute to the emergency services who carried out the rescue mission, pointing out that the area is relatively inaccessible by walkers, and therefore the rescuers expertise was necessary.
This is the latest tragedy to blight the area. There have been a number of fishing tragedies and in June of last year three men were killed when their light aircraft crashed into a field near a private landing strip at Kilkeel, Co Down.
The pilot, Hugh McKnight (53), was returning from the TT races in the Isle of Man with Andrew Burden and Stephen Annett, both aged 24.
Mr Wells added: "It's unfortunate in south Down and the Mournes there have been a number of terrible accidents and tragedies all over the place."