Rally driver McRae and son die in helicopter crash

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The Independent Online

Rally driver Colin McRae and two children - one his five-year-old son - died in the helicopter crash near his country home, police said today.

Strathclyde Police said they now know the 39-year-old former world champion, his son Johnny, and two family friends died in the aircraft which burst into flames in Lanark, Scotland, yesterday afternoon.

The other victims were named as six-year-old Ben Porcelli, of Lanark, and Graeme Duncan, 37, who lived in France.

The Twin Squirrel helicopter which McRae owned came down about 4.10pm, bursting into flames and starting a massive fire.

It was returning to McRae's home at Jerviswood from a nearby visit to the village of Quarter when the aircraft got into difficulty, police said.

Chief Superintendent Tim Love, divisional commander of Strathclyde Police's South Lanarkshire Division, said: "We believe that the group were just returning from a visit to the nearby village of Quarter around 4.05pm yesterday, when it appears that the helicopter got into difficulty and crashed within the grounds of Mr McRae's family home.

"Our officers are working closely with the Air Accident Investigation Team who are presently at the scene.

"Family Liaison Officers have been appointed and are with the families to help them through this distressing and difficult time."

A team of air accident investigators are spending the day at the scene examining the wreckage.

Strathclyde Police initially said that the damage was so bad from the accident that they didn't know how many people were on board.

A team of around 40 firefighters were at one point dealing with the fire from the blast.

David Lowry, who owns New Steadings Farm, just across the Mouse Water from McRae's home, said he saw the helicopter come down.

He told Scotland on Sunday: "I was speaking to one of my friends on the farm.

"The helicopter came overhead and then dropped into the valley.

"After it disappeared I saw smoke rising from the trees and phoned the emergency services. I could not see what happened when it went down."

Tributes poured in for McRae, who became Britain's first World Rally Champion in 1995, securing the runners-up spot on a three other occasions.

A licensed pilot, he was married to Alison and had another child, Hollie.

David Richards, McRae's former boss at Subaru where he enjoyed much of his rallying success, said his death was a terrible loss.

He told the BBC: "He had a competitive spirit like I've never seen.

"He was one of those people who had an extraordinary spirit that you just can't define. It's a terrible loss."

Frank Gunning, chairman of Lanark Community Council, said McRae's death would "throw a blanket" over the town.

The rally driver's family have been established in Lanark for several generations.

Mr Gunning said: "The McRae family were extremely well known.

"Lanark is not a big place and this is a major, major tragedy for the town."

Local minister Rev Alison Meikle said the deaths had left an air of disbelief.

Asked about the mood among parishioners in Lanark, she told Sky News: "It is one of disbelief and deep upset, deep upset for the family.

"So our prayers and thoughts are with the families involved at this time."

McRae's father, Jimmy, is a five-time British rally champion and his brother, Alister, is also former British rally champion.

Users of the rally champion's official website www.colinmcrae.com were today being greeted by a black screen with no information available.

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