'Unsafe' McRae blamed for fatal helicopter crash


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The Independent Online

Former world rally champion Colin McRae was flying unsafely and entertaining his passengers with low-level manoeuvres before his helicopter crashed, killing him, his son, another boy and a friend, it was revealed yesterday.

Sheriff Nikola Stewart, said McRae, 39, was not experienced enough and was clearly breaching guidelines when he swooped 275ft over farm buildings. He did not have a current flying licence or a valid rating for the Eurocopter Squirrel.

The helicopter crashed into trees near his home in Lanark and burst into flames, killing McRae, his five-year-old son Johnny, the boy's six-year-old friend Ben Porcelli and former quad bike racing champion Graeme Duncan, 36. Ben's parents later revealed that they had not been asked to give their permission for their son to ride in the aircraft. Yesterday Mr McRae's family defended his "prowess as a fine pilot" as a fatal accident inquiry into the crash on 15 September 2007 concluded that it could have been avoided if he had not been engaged in "unnecessary and unsafe" low-level flying, embarking on demanding manoeuvres in difficult terrain, "contrary to the principles of good airmanship".

McRae, who also had a daughter called Hollie, was awarded the MBE in 1996, a year after winning the World Rally Championship.

The inquiry, which sat at Lanark Sheriff Court, heard that McRae tried to recover the helicopter after an "unknown occurrence", which could have been a technical malfunction, interference with the controls, a bird strike or pilot error.

The sheriff said the fact that Mr McRae had no valid licence or authorisation for operating the helicopter showed a, "somewhat cavalier attitude".

The McRae family's solicitor, Peter Watson, said: "Although Colin's licence was out-of-date, this played no contributory factor whatsoever to the accident."