Page last updated at 16:59 GMT, Tuesday, 20 October 2009 17:59 UK

Crash pilot 'flew 5ft above taxi'

Flt Lt David Sale, Sgt Phillip Burfoot and Pte Sean Tait
Three men were killed in the helicopter crash near Catterick

An RAF helicopter pilot swore as he flew his aircraft just 5ft above a taxi before a fatal crash in North Yorkshire, an inquest has heard.

Pilot Dave Sale was heard to say "let's scare the shit out of this taxi", two hours before the Puma crashed near Catterick Garrison on 8 August 2007.

The inquest also heard that the Johnny Cash hit Ring Of Fire was being played over the cockpit speaker.

Flt Lt Sale, 28, and two other people on board died as a result of the crash.

Co-pilot Flt Lt Robert Hamilton, who survived but was left paraplegic, admitted at the inquest the manoeuvre close to the taxi had been "unprofessional".

Coroner Geoff Fell described the taxi incident as the "most compelling piece of evidence" of the inquest.

Flt Lt Sale, from Norton on Teesside, and Sgt Phillip Burfoot, 27, from Cardiff, were killed in the accident.

Both airmen served with 33 Squadron based at RAF Benson in Oxfordshire.

Pte Sean Tait, 17, from Glasgow, died two days later in hospital.

The inquest in Harrogate heard how a taxi driver stopped in the road as the helicopter flew low overhead.

Helicopter wreckage
The Puma came from an RAF base in Oxfordshire

Mr Fell said: "He stopped the car. He was eyeballing the pilot and described the helicopter 5ft above his car."

The coroner played extracts of the last two hours of the cockpit voice recording of the doomed aircraft.

Flt Lt Hamilton, who was the non-handling pilot when the Puma crashed, described the crew's behaviour as "unprofessional".

The Puma crashed while taking part in low-level manoeuvres with a total of 12 military personnel on board.

Flt Lt Hamilton described how he enjoyed fish and chips with his crew members before having a cigarette and phoning his girlfriend shortly before the final flight of the day took off.

'Agricultural flying'

He phoned his future wife to say: "It was the best day's flying I'd had."

He told the inquest: "I was given the chance - at 25 years old with a couple of friends on a helicopter - of learning to fly and doing some live trooping without having an instructor looking over me. A bit more freedom really."

He admitted he was not as experienced a pilot as his good friend Flt Lt Sale, who was at the controls of the Puma when it crashed at 2050 GMT.

Flt Lt Hamilton described some of his own flying as "agricultural" rather than smooth, but described his friend as a confident and self-assured pilot, but not domineering in the cockpit."

The inquest continues.

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