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Last Updated: Friday, 29 December 2006, 14:50 GMT
Storms delay helicopter inquiry
Clockwise from top left: John Shaw, Alfred Neasham, Stephen Potton, Simon Foddering
Clockwise from top left: John Shaw, Alfred Neasham, Stephen Potton and Simon Foddering all died
The investigation into a helicopter crash over Morecambe Bay is being delayed by storms and may not resume until next week at the earliest.

Gale force winds on Friday prevented the search for the flight recorder, said a spokesman for HM Coastguard.

The bodies of six men - two pilots and four gas rig workers - have been found. A search for a further missing man has been called off.

Police said they were hopeful the body of Keith Smith, 57, may still be found.

We are looking into the possibility that Mr Smith may be contained in the helicopter wreckage
Det Supt Mick Gradwell

The search for Mr Smith, from Stockton-on-Tees, was called off on Thursday and the coastguard said it would not resume because so much time had passed.

Det Supt Mick Gradwell said his body may be contained in the helicopter wreckage and the search would resume when the weather improved.

The HM Coastguard spokesman said on Friday: "We cannot send anyone out today because the conditions are near gale force and it is set to deteriorate further this weekend."

The Met Office says gale force nine winds are expected within the next 24 hours with storm force 10 predicted the following day.

"I think it is likely that the Air Accident Investigations Branch (AAIB) will not be able to search for wreckage until the beginning of next week at the earliest," the coastguard spokesman added.

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The six men confirmed dead include Centrica-employed rig workers Robert Warburton, 60, from Heysham, Leslie Ahmed, 48, from South Shields, John Shaw, 51, from Kirkcaldy, and Alfred Neasham, 57, from Durham.

Pilots Stephen Potton, 51, from Blackpool and Simon Foddering, 33, from Preston, also died.

The Eurocopter AS365N helicopter, which took off from Blackpool Airport, was on a routine flight between rigs for gas firm Centrica when it crashed into the sea 25 miles off the coast on Wednesday evening.

No emergency call was received before it crashed 500 yards away from the third rig. The AAIB launched an inquiry into the incident, the cause of which is not yet known.

'Clinging to hope'

The families and friends of the victims have been paying tribute to their loved ones.

The family of pilot Mr Potton said he was "immediately liked and loved" by all who met him.

Mr Shaw's wife Deirdra said her husband - known to friends as Jake - would be "sorely missed by everyone who knew him".

Mr Neasham's daughter Jill said her family would "never come to terms" with the death of her father.

Neighbours of Mr Foddering described him as a "fantastic guy" and a "devoted father" and the family of Mr Ahmed said he would be "sadly missed".

The family of Mr Warburton, 60, asked to be left alone to grieve in peace.




SEE ALSO
Wife of offshore crash man speaks
28 Dec 06 |  Edinburgh and East

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