Pilot pressure led to fatal Harding crash

Click to follow
The Independent Online
The death of Matthew Harding, the Labour-supporting vice chairman of Chelsea, in a helicopter crash last year has led to a tightening of flying regulations. Randeep Ramesh, Transport Correspondent, examines the official inquiry into the tragedy.

The seeds of the disaster - which claimed four lives - were sown early. Michael Goss, the pilot who was operating his own one-man business, was on the first of seven planned flights for Mr Harding and, according to the official report, could have been under "intense commercial pressure" to press on with the trip from Bolton to London whatever the weather.

Despite being an experienced pilot, he had neither the qualifications nor experience to control his aircraft after it got into difficulties.

To make matters worse, Mr Goss 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.

According to the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) report, the 38-year-old 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.

But the type of flight Mr Goss 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 the Chelsea vice-chairman's friends died instantly when the twin- engined French Aerospatiale Squirrel crashed near Middlewich, Cheshire, in October last year.

Only three weeks before the crash, Tony Blair and his wife Cherie had travelled in the same helicopter on their way back from Labour's party conference in Blackpool.

The AAIB called for a tightening of helicopter pilot operating and training. A spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority, the air safety regulator, said they have already been acted upon.

The new rules include ensuring the minimum height for any flight at night shall be not less than 1,000ft above the highest obstacle within 10 miles each side of the intended route, and stricter weather criteria for night flying.

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 journalist John Bauldie, 47, from Richmond, south-west London.

Mr Harding, who was worth more than pounds 200m, and his party had been celebrating Chelsea's victory over Bolton. His widow, Ruth, and their four children are thought to have received about pounds 50m, while about pounds 25m went to his mistress, Vicky Jaramillo, by whom he had a daughter.