Businessman Edward Haughey killed in helicopter crash was suing maker over safety issues
Businessman Edward Haughey, who was killed in a helicopter crash last night, had sued the manufacturer of his AgustaWestland aircraft over safety concerns, it has emerged.
Lord Ballyedmond, one of the richest men in Northern Ireland, died alongside three others when his AW139 helicopter came down in a field at Gillingham on the border of Norfolk and Suffolk on Thursday evening.
A writ was lodged by the entrepreneur’s luxury helicopter charter company, Haughey Air, against AgustaWestland in relation to possible defects with helicopters made by the manufacturer.
The case was lodged at the High Court in September last year and is understood to have included concerns about in-flight mapping systems.
Villagers of Gillingham said Lord Ballyedmond’s twin-engined aircraft might have clipped a tree as it took off in thick fog just seconds before it crashed, killing everyone on board.
It is thought the six ton aircraft could have hit a 55 ft conifer in a copse bordering Lord Balleyedmond’s 55 acre estate, and around 200 yards from the helipad.
The top 25ft section of the tree appeared to have been freshly snapped off and was lying on the ground, leaving the bottom 30ft section still standing.
It is believed the pilot then lost control as the helicopter flew over the A146 road and over a hedge before crashing into a neighbouring field, spreading wreckage over a wide area.
A resident, who asked not to be named, said: “It looks like the helicopter hit the top of the tree and snapped it clean off. The tree broke off in the direction of where the helicopter would have been flying on take off.”
It is not known whether the helicopter that crashed was one of the aircraft Lord Ballyedmond’s charter company raised concerns over.
Haughey Air Ltd’s website says it flies a Sikorsky aircraft from bases in Northern Ireland and Carlisle.
AgustaWestland said it could not comment on the possible defects with Lord Ballyedmond's aircraft, but said it was investigating.
Speaking from the company's office in Italy, a spokesman said: "We cannot comment now because we need to make internal checks to establish exactly what the situation is.
"We cannot yet comment on this accident because there is an investigation pending and there could be many causes, be them technical or due to human error.
"Obviously we are very much regretful of what happened and will support the ongoing investigation in any possible way."
In February 2012 an inquest heard in-flight technology systems on board AgustaWestland helicopters should be improved after a crash which killed a friend of the Prince of Wales.
The mapping databases display the height of terrain like mountains and whether certain areas are available to fly through but the four-day inquest in Belfast highlighted flaws.
Known as Edward Haughey until he was made a life peer in 2004, Lord Ballyedmond owned Gillingham Hall, a stately home near the crash site.
Police said only a limited investigation of the crash site had been possible in the dark and foggy conditions and a more detailed forensic examination will take place today.
Ulster Unionist peer Lord Reg Empey, who has known the Haughey family for 25 years, said: "Lord Ballyedmond was one of the most successful entrepreneurs in Northern Ireland and indeed these islands. He brought high-quality employment opportunities to this country during its darkest days.
"This tragic accident has cut short the life of a man who had still much to give. The family circle will be numbed by the tragedy."
All four people on board the helicopter were pronounced dead at the scene after it crashed in a field containing a wooded area, Norfolk Police said.
The victims have not yet been formally identified while officers contact their next of kin.
It was reported that the helicopter was flying to Northern Ireland, though police refused to comment on where it had taken off from or what its destination was.
Lord Ballyedmond served in the upper houses of Britain and Ireland, in the Seanad in Dublin.
Ulster Unionist Stormont assembly member Danny Kennedy said he was stunned.
He added: "Lord Ballyedmond was a determined businessman who brought much-needed employment to my own constituency of Newry and Armagh. He built a world class business from scratch and at the same time managed to base it locally.
"He will be sadly missed throughout the business community in Northern Ireland and wider afield. I offer my deepest sympathies to Lady Mary and the children."
South Down SDLP MP Margaret Ritchie said he was unique.
"He was a major employer in the Co Down area and invested a lot of money.
"He got up and at it and he possessed those attributes required to make you a successful businessman but he also was a major employer and a lot of families had connections with him through that."
Emergency services were called by members of the public who heard a loud crash, though Inspector Louis Provart would not say whether there was an explosion and refused to speculate on the cause of the crash.
The Air Accidents Investigation Branch has been informed and a team will be sent to investigate the crash, a spokesman said.