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Wednesday, November 26, 1997 Published at 22:44 GMT


Pilot 'to blame' for Harding crash
image: [ Matthew Harding at Chelsea's ground Stamford Bridge ]
Matthew Harding at Chelsea's ground Stamford Bridge

The helicopter crash which killed the multi-millionaire Chelsea football club vice-chairman Matthew Harding is expected to be blamed on pilot error.

A leaked copy of the accident investigation report says the crash was caused by pilot Mick Goss becoming seriously disorientated in low cloud and fog at night.

Mechanical failure of the twin-engined Squirrel helicopter - used only three weeks earlier by Tony Blair - is believed to have been ruled out by air investigators in the report due out on Thursday.

Mr Goss, together with three of Mr Harding's friends, also died in the crash near Middlewich, Cheshire, on October 22, 1996. The Harding party had been returning to London having seen Chelsea play in a Coca-Cola Cup tie at Bolton.

[ image: Investigators at the crash scene]
Investigators at the crash scene
The Air Accidents Investigation Branch report is also expected to reveal that Mr Goss, although experienced in flying army helicopters, was not instrument-rated - meaning that he was not licensed to fly through bad weather.

Earlier on the day of the accident, the Harding party had traveled to balloonist Per Linstrand's factory on Oswestry in Shropshire before travelling on to Bolton. Mr Linstrand later said that flying conditions were poor and that "it was not a night to be flying in a helicopter".

It is believed that the Civil Aviation Authority may now seek to change existing regulations to force commercial pilots flying at night to obtain qualifications to fly solely on blind-flying instruments and also to carry enough instruments.

Helicopter hire companies fear that a change in the law could put some charter operators out of business as both hire and pilot training costs would increase.

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