Friday 28 April 2017

UK-based Irish business family on way to Dublin Confirmation when helicopter crashed

  • Five members of UK-based family with strong Irish links died
  • 'Six children lost their parents'
  • Wreckage located - police confirm
  • Group 'travelling to attend family Confirmation in Dublin'
  • Families of deceased release statement
Ruth and Kevin Burke from Hulcote, near Milton Keynes, were two of the passengers on the helicopter
Ruth and Kevin Burke from Hulcote, near Milton Keynes, were two of the passengers on the helicopter
The helicopter disappeared off the radar while en-route to Dublin
Vehicles parked outside the Llanberis Mountain Rescue station in the Snowdonia mountain range in north Wales (Image: Peter Byrne/PA Wire)
A vehicle parked outside the Llanberis Mountain Rescue station in the Snowdonia mountain range in north Wales (Image: Peter Byrne/PA Wire)
Vehicles parked outside the Llanberis Mountain Rescue station in the Snowdonia mountain range in north Wales (Image: Peter Byrne/PA Wire)
A footpath leading up the Snowdonia mountain range in north Wales where the search for theTwin Squirrel helicopter was focused early on Thursday (Image: Peter Byrne/PA Wire)

Ralph Riegel, Kathy Armstrong and Laura Larkin

FIVE members of a UK-based family with strong Irish links died when the helicopter they were using to attend a family Confirmation in Dublin crashed into a Welsh mountain in atrocious weather conditions.

The five, three men and two women, were killed instantly when the private helicopter they were using to fly from Luton, north of London, to Dublin's Weston Aerodrome crashed into Rhinog mountain in the Snowdonia national park in north Wales.

The Burke family last night appealed for privacy after the tragedy.

"Six children have lost their parents in this tragedy," a family spokesman said.

"At this stage the family wants to be left alone to be able to deal with their grief over this terrible loss and concentrate upon looking after the children."

It is believed the pilot of the Airbus/EuroCopter Twin Squirrel light helicopter was attempting to descend to avoid inclement weather when the tragedy occurred.

It is understood Milton Keynes-based construction millionaire, Kevin Burke (57), his wife, Ruth, his brother as well as his brother-in-law and sister-in-law are among the deceased.

Mr Burke, who is from Manchester but has strong Irish links, ran the successful Milton Keynes based construction firm, Staske Ltd., and the helicopter which crashed was owned by the firm.

The couple have a 19 year old daughter and a 14 year old son.

It is understood all five were travelling on Wednesday to attend a Confirmation in Ireland.

Shock

Local newspaper, 'The Milton Keynes Citizen', said the area was shocked by the deaths of the wealthy businessman and his wife.

A vehicle parked outside the Llanberis Mountain Rescue station in the Snowdonia mountain range in north Wales (Image: Peter Byrne/PA Wire)
A vehicle parked outside the Llanberis Mountain Rescue station in the Snowdonia mountain range in north Wales (Image: Peter Byrne/PA Wire)

Neighbour Elizabeth Thornley (24), who lives near the Burke's home, said they had not lived at the property long and had been "doing up the house for about a year and a half".

Mr Burke was a former student at Lord Grey School and was also deputy chairman of Hulcote and Salford Parish Council, the latter in his native Manchester.

A vastly experienced pilot, he used the firm's helicopter to commute between the various development projects his firm undertook around the UK.

Mr Burke was also a director of Bletchley-based construction firm, Tubular Erectors Ltd.

His firms have worked on such high-profile UK developments as Milton Keynes Hospital, MK Dons Stadium and the Shenly Brook School.

His wife, Ruth, served as the company secretary.

All five bodies were recovered shortly before lunch yesterday when the UK Coastguard and North Wales Police switched the focus of their search from Caernarfon Bay to the Snowdonia mountains.

Vehicles parked outside the Llanberis Mountain Rescue station in the Snowdonia mountain range in north Wales (Image: Peter Byrne/PA Wire)
Vehicles parked outside the Llanberis Mountain Rescue station in the Snowdonia mountain range in north Wales (Image: Peter Byrne/PA Wire)

Search

It had initially been feared the red-coloured helicopter had been lost over the Irish Sea.

However, the search switched inland after it emerged that a special beacon which activates when exposed to salt water never triggered.

North Wales Police also used mobile phone triangulation data to focus their search effort on a remote mountainous area between Rhinog and Trawsfynydd.

Seven mountain rescue teams, as well as specialist dog search teams, examined the Rhinog area before the Twin Squirrel wreckage was found.

All five bodies were located by or within the wreckage.

Weather conditions were so bad that search teams operated with visibility of less than 10 metres.

North Wales Police stressed that weather conditions were so bad that helicopters could not be used to access the remote area.

Supt Gareth Evans confirmed that the families involved have been informed and specialist police liaison teams are now assisting them.

"I can sadly confirm that a crash site has been located and that five people have lost their lives due to this incident," he said.

"This is an agonising time for the family and friends of all involved."

"Our thoughts are very much with them at this time."

The crash site has been preserved pending a full investigation into the tragedy by the UK Air Accident Investigation Branch.

No mayday was received from the twin-engined helicopter which vanished off radar and from radio contact shortly after 4pm on Wednesday.

The helicopter had left Luton and was bound for Weston Aerodrome in Lucan.

It vanished shortly after approaching the Snowdonia-Caernarfon Bay area.

The Twin Squirrel, one of the most popular light helicopters in private use, has an excellent safety record though it has been involved in a number of fatal accidents.

It is the same helicopter type as used by the Garda Air Support Unit.

The Department of Foreign affairs confirmed it has not received any request for consular assistance, but stands ready to provide assistance if requested.

Welsh MP Alun Cairns said the entire community was stunned by the scale of the tragedy.

"My thoughts and deepest sympathies go out to the families of the victims of the helicopter crash in Snowdonia," he said.

“The emergency services and the mountain rescue involved in the search, rescue and recovery operation have carried out their work in incredibly difficult conditions.

“I am grateful to them for their determination and dedication, and to those providing support to the families during what is a very difficult time.

“The recovery operation will be challenging. I ask that the investigating authorities be given the time and space necessary to undertake this important work.”

Details

Superintendent Gareth Evans, of North Wales Police, said the details of the victims were not being released by police but specialist officers were supporting their families.

In a statement released following a press briefing police said:

"The exact location is not being revealed at this time to allow a dignified and unhindered recovery of the bodies in what is described as very difficult and challenging terrain."

“The aircraft, a red Twin Squirrel helicopter had failed to arrive in Dublin from Luton yesterday afternoon instigating a full sea and then land search and rescue operation," Supt Evans said.

"Initially, its last known position was believed ‘over sea’ in the Caernarfon Bay area but this was then narrowed to a land based search co-ordinated by North Wales Police in Snowdonia involving all local and RAF Mountain Rescue Teams.

"Local conditions were described as atrocious with visibility down to less than 10 metres in places.   My thanks go out to the professionalism and commitment of all those personnel involved in this operation.

“Formal identification has not taken place so details of the passengers are not being revealed at this time. Families of those on board the aircraft are being supported by specialist Police Family Liaison Officers.

"Our thoughts are very much with them and on their behalf I ask you respect their privacy at this very difficult time.  HM Coroner for north west Wales Mr Dewi Pritchard-Jones has been informed and he has ‘opened’ an investigation.

“The terrain where the aircraft has been located is remote and in places hazardous.  I’d also like to thank the local community for their support and assistance but I’d also ask people to refrain from visiting the area as it is now subject of a full investigation led by the Air Accident Investigation Branch to establish what led up to and caused this tragic event.

“We are also appealing for help from the public and local communities and so I’d ask if anyone sighted the aircraft flying over Snowdonia yesterday to contact North Wales Police via the live web chat or by phoning 101.”

Investigation

Police in Wales have asked members of the public to refrain from the area as it's now the subject of an investigation.

Local MP Alun Cairns also released a statement to the media expressing his sympathies.

"My thoughts and deepest sympathies go out to the families of the victims of the helicopter crash in Snowdonia," he said.

“The emergency services and the mountain rescue involved in the search, rescue and recovery operation have carried out their work in incredibly difficult conditions.

“I am grateful to them for their determination and dedication, and to those providing support to the families during what is a very difficult time.

“The recovery operation will be challenging. I ask that the investigating authorities be given the time and space necessary to undertake this important work.”

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