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Lord Ballyedmond: Northern Ireland's richest man among four killed in Norfolk helicopter crash

Foggy conditions could have been a factor in the accident

Northern Ireland's richest man and Conservative peer Lord Ballyedmond has been killed alongside three others after the helicopter they were travelling in crashed in Norfolk.

The civil aircraft came down near Gillingham Hall, a large stately home owned by the peer, who was born Edward Haughey.

The cause of the crash has yet to be established and an investigation will be held but fog could have been a factor.

Emergency services scoured the crash site close to the village of Gillingham, near Beccles in Suffolk, for survivors but everyone on board was killed.

The other three victims have all been confirmed as male.

A police spokeswoman said that the flight was bound for Northern Ireland.

An ambulance spokesman said: “Sadly four people in the helicopter have died in the crash. Ambulance resources have now been stood down from the scene. Our thoughts are with the family and friends of those who have lost their lives tonight.”

Ballyedmond.jpgNorfolk Police were called to the scene at about 7.30pm and located the wreckage after carrying out a search. The helicopter was later confirmed to have been civilian rather than military.

A spokeswoman said: “Officers were called at about 7.30pm which led to a search of the area resulting in the discovery of the crash site

“The helicopter has been confirmed as a civilian aircraft and the four occupants on board are thought to have died in the crash. Next of kin will be informed before further details of a deceased are released."

The Air Accident Investigation Branch said that it had dispatched a team to the crash site, in woodland close to the village church, to begin an investigation.

Lord Ballyedmond, who was 70, made his estimated £650 million fortune through a successful veterinary pharmaceutical business formed in the 1960s. He also started an air travel business, Haughey Air, which owned a helicopter charter company and the lease to Carlisle Airport, which he acquired in 2000 before selling it on in 2006 after three loss-making years.

Police man a road block in Gillingham, near Beccles, Norfolk, as emergency services are attend to a helicopter crash

He enjoyed a close relationship with Ireland's Albert Reynolds-led government in the early 1990s and in 1993 was appointed as the first chairman of the newly established Irish Aviation Authority.

He was nominated to the Irish senate, the Seanad, in 1994 by Mr Reynolds, and again by Bertie Ahern in 1997. He was made Baron Ballyedmond of Mourne in the County of Down in 2004, sitting in the House of Lords on behalf of the Ulster Unionist Party, before switching to the Conservatives.

Edward Haughey was made a life peer as Baron Ballyedmond of Mourne in 2004.

Ulster Unionist peer Lord Reg Empey has known the Haughey family for 25 years.

He said: "Lord Ballyedmond was one of the most successful entrepreneurs in Northern Ireland and indeed these islands. He brought high-quality employment opportunities to this country during its darkest days.

"This tragic accident has cut short the life of a man who had still much to give. The family circle will be numbed by the tragedy."

Ulster Unionist Stormont assembly member Danny Kennedy said he was stunned.

He added: "Lord Ballyedmond was a determined businessman who brought much-needed employment to my own constituency of Newry and Armagh. He built a world class business from scratch and at the same time managed to base it locally.

"He will be sadly missed throughout the business community in Northern Ireland and wider afield. I offer my deepest sympathies to Lady Mary and the children."

Yesterday evening's crash took place just two months after a US military HH-60G Pave Hawk, based at RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk, crashed in Cley next the Sea, Norfolk, during a low level training exercise killing four personnel. Munitions were strewn about the crash site, a nature reserve. The site of that crash is about 45 miles from where last night's fatal accident occurred.

Just a few hours before the crash, the families of 16 men who died in a North Sea helicopter accident called for the operator to be prosecuted after an inquiry found the tragedy could have been avoided. Fourteen oil workers and two crew died when the Bond Super Puma plunged into the water off the Aberdeenshire coast on April 1, 2009. A fatal accident inquiry identified failings in the maintenance of the aircraft's gearbox in the days before the crash.

Additional reporting by Press Association