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Thursday, November 27, 1997 Published at 12:05 GMT


Pilot 'unable to control' Harding helicopter
image: [ The crash site in Cheshire ]
The crash site in Cheshire

An official report into the helicopter crash in which the Chelsea vice-chairman Matthew Harding died has said that the pilot had neither the qualifications nor experience to control the aircraft after it got into difficulties.

Michael Goss, 38, had gone off route on the night of the crash and headed for an area of high ground which a weather forecaster had advised him to avoid.

The Air Accident Investigation Branch found he was not qualified to fly on instruments, became disorientated and overworked, and could not save the aircraft after it went into a steep nose-up position then spiralled to the ground.

Mr Goss, who was operating his own one-man business, was on the first of seven planned flights for Mr Harding and could have been under "intense commercial pressure" to press on with the trip from Bolton to London whatever the weather.

But the type of flight he attempted, which involved avoiding obstacles such as high ground by detouring around them, "required a standard of flight planning and in-flight navigation accuracy which was not achieved and which was probably unachievable under the circumstances," the report said.

Mr Goss, a former British Army helicopter pilot, Mr Harding, 42, and three of millionaire's friends died instantly when the twin-engined French Aerospatiale AS 355F1 Squirrel crashed near Middlewich, Cheshire, on October 22 last year.

The AAIB called for a tightening of helicopter pilot operating and training - recommendations on which the Civil Aviation Authority has already acted.

[ image: Matthew Harding at Stamford Bridge]
Matthew Harding at Stamford Bridge
Mr Harding's party was returning to London from Bolton, Lancashire, after seeing Chelsea play at Bolton in a Coca-Cola Cup tie.

The report said tests showed that some of the passengers had been drinking alcohol, but in the opinion of the pathologist, the amount drunk was "not insufficient quantities to have provoked irrational or unrestrained behaviour."

Those who died with Mr Harding and Mr Goss were Raymond Deane, 43, from Camberley, Surrey; father-of-two Tony Burridge, a company director, of Wimbledon, south west London and magazine journalist John Bauldie, 47, from Richmond, south west London.

The report said that after taking off from Bolton after the match, the flight had to operate below an overcast cloud layer which was below the minimum safe en route altitude.

[ image: Christopher Wain]
Christopher Wain
The helicopter went into a nose-up position after Mr Goss had, for no clear reason, decided to climb to a higher altitude. The helicopter lost speed and with Mr Goss unable to see the ground, everything depended on his instrument flying skills.

The BBC's Transport Correspondent, Christopher Wain, said the wreckage had burned for 90 minutes, destroying some of the evidence.

He described the investigation as a "particularly difficult" piece of detective work which had relied on air traffic control records and eye-witness statements.

Christopher Wain explains the report's findings

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