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Monday, September 7, 1998 Published at 17:36 GMT 18:36 UK


Death crash helicopter 'too low'

Noel Edmonds: His charity event turned to tragedy

The cause of a helicopter crash that killed a nine-year-old boy at a Noel Edmonds charity event was a matter of inches, according to the pilot.

Robert Hobson has told a fatal accident inquiry that if he had been flying just two inches higher the tragedy would never have happened.

The inquiry at Forfar Sheriff Court, Angus, also heard the helicopter was carrying five passengers when it should only have contained four.

Mr Hobson told the investigation he was trying to make an emergency landing and was just four feet above the ground when the the aircraft struck the top strand of a wire fence and crashed.

"With the benefit of hindsight, it may have been more prudent to taxi higher, but I had an emergency and I was looking for a good landing place," said the 56-year-old, from Penicuik, Midlothian.

He blamed the accident on bad visibility, misting on his windscreen and a blind spot on the aircraft, where a fibreglass strip runs between the two front screens.

Mr Hobson, who had 10 years' experience flying the Bell Jet Ranger aircraft, also admitted that he had failed to check how many passengers were on board before taking off and did not realise he had one too many.

No check on numbers

Garry Malley, from Dundee, died in the crash in July last year at the event at Glamis Castle, Angus, organised by Mr Edmonds' charity for children with special needs, Airborne.

It was only when Mr Hobson tried to rescue his passengers that he realised he had an extra person on board, the inquiry heard.

"I didn't get involved in the loading and I didn't check the number of passengers, other than a cursory glance," he said.

"In an airline, the captain does not go back and check the number of people on board."

Advocate Depute Colin Mackenzie, representing the dead boy's mother Sandra, 30, put it to Mr Hobson that the extra person and the children's wet clothing could have added to the misting which caused him to make the emergency landing.

"It would have been a negligible effect, I have travelled with passengers with wet clothes before and I have never had a problem," responded Mr Hobson.

Confusion over lists

Earlier the inquiry heard that Garry Malley was on the wrong plane.

Crash investigator Robin Tydeman said the mix-up was caused by confusion over passenger lists.

Mr Tydeman said the flight manual for the Bell Jet Ranger specified that the number of passengers on board should not exceed five, including the pilot.

"The captain of the helicopter is responsible for the number of passengers in the aircraft," he said. "He is responsible for the safety of the aircraft and the safety of the passengers and is required to obey the limitations of the manual."

Mr Hobson was cleared of negligence at a court hearing in May.

Then, it had been alleged that he put passengers at risk by taking off with his windows misted over and flying with restricted visibility.

But the sheriff at Forfar ruled he had no case to answer.

The Airborne Trust has cancelled further flights until the inquiry reports.

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