Harding helicopter death blamed on pilot's confusion

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The Independent Online
THE PILOT of the helicopter in which Chelsea Football Club vice- chairman Matthew Harding died probably became disoriented just before the aircraft plunged to earth and burst into flames, an inquest was told yesterday.

Multi-millionaire Mr Harding, 42, pilot Michael Goss, 38, businessmen Tony Burridge, 39, and Raymond Deane, 43, and magazine journalist John Bauldie, 47, died instantly when the Twin Squirrel aircraft crashed into farmland near Middlewich, Cheshire, and burst into flames as it was carrying the party from a Chelsea v Bolton cup tie on 22 October 1996.

Chief air accident investigator Michael Charles told the inquest in Knutsford, Cheshire, that former army pilot Mr Goss was probably trying to do "more than was achievable" in trying to fly single-handed in poor visibility in a helicopter without autopilot and while trying to talk to air traffic control. He said new regulations on night flying were due to be introduced which would require that helicopters with single pilots should be fitted with autopilots or stabilisation devices.

Mr Goss probably became confused and might not have believed his instruments before trying to manoeuvre the helicopter without looking for visual signs outside the aircraft, the inquest was told.

Mr Charles told Cheshire coroner John Hibbert that there was an indicator in the cockpit showing the position of the helicopter in relation to the horizon. "If he had looked at it and believed what it had told him and acted on it, there would have been no problem," he said. But it was not uncommon for pilots to get a "body sense" and convince themselves their aircraft was straight.

The jury heard a tape-recording on which Mr Goss, who had drifted off course, asked air traffic control for permission to climb to 3,000 feet before requesting a bearing straight to Manchester Airport. He was given permission to climb and was then asked what bearings he wanted for an ILS (instrument landing).

The pilot's last words were: "Yeah, I'm looking for vectors for an ILS ... I think I'm in a descent at the moment ... hold on." The aircraft is believed to have crashed moments later.

Mr Harding's estranged wife Ruth, 44, and his girlfriend Vicky Jaramillo, 26, were both in court for the hearing, which is expected to last up to four days. It continues today.