Man guilty of driving at helicopter

A gamekeeper has been convicted of endangering an aircraft after driving straight at a low-flying helicopter.

Malcolm Hughes, 61, could have killed the two pilots when he drove his Land Rover at the Army Air Corps Squirrel helicopter.

Pilot Lieutenant Andrew Higgins was seconds from dropping to just 5ft above the ground when his co-pilot spotted Hughes's vehicle and disaster was averted.

Hughes, of Raffin Lane, Pewsey, Wiltshire, denied a single charge of acting in a manner likely to endanger aircraft.

However, a jury found him guilty after a three-day trial at Salisbury Crown Court.

Prosecutor Justin Gau had told jurors that Hughes had driven underneath the helicopter.

"It remained there and then drove off a few yards and the defendant was seen gesticulating angrily and making signs that the vehicle should depart," Mr Gau said.

"It was clear and quite intentional the Land Rover had been driven at the helicopter."

Mr Gau added: "Had it not been spotted, it is quite clear that the rotor of the helicopter would have been hit by the car and a fatal crash would have occurred."

Lt Higgins was teaching trainee pilot Bombardier Henry Luck low-flying manoeuvres over farmland at Wootton Rivers, near Pewsey, on the afternoon of December 9, 2009.

The helicopter had taken off from the Middle Wallop airbase in Hampshire and flown towards Pewsey, on a route used by the Army Air Corps every three months.

Lt Higgins said he was just about to descend to 5ft when Bmdr Luck raised the alarm.

"He suddenly said 'Stop' at about 10ft as we started to descend," the officer said.

"As soon as he said stop, I looked to the direction he was looking and about half a second later I saw a Land Rover driving underneath the helicopter.

"It moved forward towards the other side of the field and stopped and the occupant gesticulated for us to depart."

Lt Higgins added: "It was a bit of shock at the time. However, he was vigorously moving his arm out of the window."

The pilot maintained that, had he not taken evasive action, the helicopter would have struck the Land Rover.

"In the worst case, the tail rotor would have hit the vehicle and it would have resulted in the vehicle crashing," he added.

After being arrested, Hughes told police that he had never driven under the helicopter and the closest he had been was 300 metres away.

He said he drove towards the helicopter because he wanted to get close enough to take the aircraft's serial number and report it to the authorities for low flying - a just as his employer had told him to do.

Judge Douglas Field adjourned the case until August 24 when sentencing will take place at Swindon Crown Court.

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