Search called off as men who died in helicopter crash are named

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The Independent Online

The passengers and crew killed when their helicopter crashed in Morecambe Bay had no time to react or send a distress signal, experts said yesterday.

Six bodies have been recovered from the sea, but last night the search for the seventh victim, Keith Smith, 57, from Stockton-on-Tees, was called off.

The helicopter had been on a routine flight ferrying workers on and off gas platforms 24 miles out to sea, when it ditched 500 yards short of a gas rig where it was about to land.

Investigators from the Air Accident Investigation Board are still trying to piece together the details of helicopter's last moments after it took off from Blackpool in fairly reasonable weather conditions at about 6pm on Wednesday.

The Eurocopter aircraft flew to one rig, picked up a number of people, then flew to a second rig and was on its way to a third when it suddenly "reared to the left" and crashed. No mayday was sent by the craft before it ditched into the sea and, according to Keith Mullett, managing director of the helicopter's owner CHC Scotia, the safety record of the Eurocopter was "excellent" and there were no concerns over the aircraft.

Yesterday the dead were named as pilots Stephen Potton from Blackpool, and Simon Foddering from Preston; and passengers Robert Warburton, 60, from Heysham, Lancashire; Leslie Ahmed, 48, from South Shields; John Shaw, 51, from Kirkcaldy, Fife; and Alfred Neasham, 57, from Durham. They all worked for Centrica. Mr Smith worked for Costain Petrofac.

"Stephen Potton, the captain, was our chief pilot at Blackpool and had over 20 years' experience," said Mr Mullett. "Simon Foddering was the senior first officer and, although he only joined us just over a year ago, he was an experienced pilot. This was an experienced, capable crew."

Mr Foddering, who was 33 and had two children, had served in the Army. He took over the controls of the North Wales Air Ambulance three years ago, before moving to CHC Scotia.

Aneighbour, Joe Collins, 34, described Mr Foddering, who was estranged from the mother of his two young daughters, as a "fantastic guy".

Sam Laidlaw, chief executive of Centrica, said: "We are deeply saddened by the event. We are providing support to the family and friends and colleagues of those who died. This is the first major incident to affect our operations in Morecambe Bay since they began 21 years ago."

A close family friend paid tribute to Mr Neasham as a hard-working family man who was very experienced with life on the rigs. "He was a hell of a nice bloke, a good family man who loved his children and grandchildren," said Bob Walker, a neighbour for 28 years, who said his friend had been devoted to his wife, Val, and their children Lee, 34, and Gill, 31.

Mr Shaw was an electrical engineer and used to be a miner before switching to working on the rigs. "He has grown-up children, was divorced and has a new partner, Louise," said a former neighbour.

At Mr Ahmed's home in South Shields, South Tyneside, his family had been due to hold a late Christmas celebration as he had been working over the holidays. Presents were still wrapped under the Christmas tree in thesemi-detached home he shared with his 40-year-old wife, Julie, and two sons, Lewis, 12, and Joel, 10.

"He was due home tomorrow and the family were planning a delayed Christmas lunch together," said a neighbour. "He was such a loving family man and a great father to his boys."