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Thursday, November 27, 1997 Published at 12:01 GMT


Pilot 'disorientated' on impact
image: [ Matthew Harding gazes out onto his beloved Stamford Bridge ]
Matthew Harding gazes out onto his beloved Stamford Bridge

Pilot error is being blamed for the helicopter accident in which the Chelsea vice-chairman, Matthew Harding, died last year.

The man at the controls, former army pilot Michael Goss, is said to have been neither qualified nor able to fly the helicopter when it experienced difficulties over Cheshire.

The main findings of the report:

  • Mr Goss was licensed and qualified to conduct the flight but was required to fly by visual means only

  • His instrument flying skills had not been formally examined since April 1992

  • He "probably lacked recent experience" of using the flight instruments to right the helicopter when it went into a nose-up position

[ image: Evidence was pieced together by the AAIB]
Evidence was pieced together by the AAIB

  • He lost sight of the ground and could not control the helicopter by sole reference to the flight instruments

  • The cabin lighting was too weak for easy reading of maps

  • Mr Goss "overly and unwisely" relied on air traffic control for navigation

  • He was probably still disorientated when the helicopter struck the ground

  • His workload in marginal weather conditions was excessive.

Commercial pressure may have contributed

The report also said that Mr Goss may have been under "intense commercial pressure" to press on with the flight whatever the weather.

He had set up his own aviation company, MGA Ltd, and was the sole pilot and managing director.

[ image: A helicopter similar to the one which crashed]
A helicopter similar to the one which crashed
He had taken seven bookings from Mr Harding to carry the Chelsea vice-chairman to away matches. The fatal Bolton trip was the first.

The Squirrel helicopter was leased from another company, and MGA had paid a substantial deposit for the lease.

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch report said: "Unfortunately, commercial pressures, particularly those which affect the one-man charter company and the newly formed company competing for business, can adversely affect a pilot's judgment.

"For instance, in this accident, to have turned back at the first sign of difficulties ahead may have been the commander's (pilot's) instinct but his fledgling business needed the client's custom."

Army background

Mr Goss, a father of two, who was from the village of Wilton near Salisbury, Wiltshire, trained as a helicopter pilot in the British Army, starting flying training as an observer in 1980 and becoming a pilot in 1985.

Three years later he was trained at the Central Flying School and became a qualified helicopter instructor. He completed his engagement with the Army in August 1993.

For his last military flying assessment, Mr Goss was graded as "above average".

The AAIB report said that from Mr Goss's Army Air Corps Service record "it was clear that he was held in high esteem by his superiors."

Facts about Harding

  • After hearing the news of the disaster, Chelsea manager Ruud Gullit revealed how he had an eerie feeling that week that something awful was going to happen

  • Harding's friend and fellow Chelsea fan, broadcaster and former Tory MP David Mellor, later told how the vice-chairman would "plant a beery kiss" on him when their beloved blues scored a goal

  • Mr Harding joined the Chelsea board in 1993 after rising from a 17-a-week clerical worker to become a tycoon in less than a decade

  • He had a tempestuous relationship with Chelsea chairman Ken Bates, who said a year after the crash said that he was "full of bullshit"

  • Mr Harding left about 200 million. His widow Ruth and their four children are thought to have received about 50 million, while about 25 million went to his mistress, Vicky Jaramillo, by whom he had a young daughter.

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