Two close shaves rattle businessman

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 August, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 August, 2010, 12:00am

But for two potentially life-changing events, businessman Matt Ames is one of the last people you would expect to have sleepless nights.

Last month, a day trip to the casino tables of Macau ended with the Sky Shuttle helicopter in which he was a passenger ditching in Victoria Harbour.

After that, as a tonic, the 35-year-old Londoner took his wife, four young children and their nanny to Mustique, an exclusive private island in the Caribbean.

The island - which boasts royalty, business tycoons and celebrities among its visitors - is hard to beat.

But just as Ames thought the sun-kissed beaches and Carribean charms of Mustique had done their work in helping exorcise the memories of his Hong Kong drama, fate brought them flooding back.

Ames and his family planned to leave their Caribbean hideaway on a private charter flight to connect to a flight to London.

Hours before they were due to leave they received a phone call asking if they would mind switching to a smaller plane. The Cessna 402C they were booked on had a suffered a technical problem.

Due back in Hong Kong for crucial business meetings this week, the founder and chief executive of sustainable investment company Forestry for Life couldn't afford to wait, so he and his family took the smaller plane.

On his arrival in Hong Kong, Ames discovered that the seven-seater Cessna they were originally due to fly on had been sent to the tiny Caribbean island of Canouan on a medical evacuation mission but had crashed into the sea en route.

The wreckage of the ill-fated aircraft was found but the pilot, who was on his way to the tiny island of Canouan to airlift a road accident victim, was not. The accident victim also died.

Speaking in Hong Kong last week, after arriving for four days of meetings, Ames said: 'I only found out about the Caribbean crash when I arrived here and that just made me want to go home because it just brought everything flooding back. I had about an hour's sleep last night before I just woke up sweating.

'The helicopter crash was bad enough. But the realisation that if we had taken that different flight out of Mustique, myself and my family could have been on the very plane which crashed and I wouldn't have been here talking to you, has left me quite shaken.'

Ames, who is a qualified helicopter pilot with 80 hours flying experience, says the overwhelming need to know that the life jackets for him and his family are easily available and working properly on any flight are a direct result of his experience when the AgustaWestland AW139 ditched in the harbour on July 3.

He also spoke of his anger and disappointment at the way he and a friend whose life he saved, Nick Barclay, have been treated by the helicopter's owners.

'I'm a very, very level-headed person, I am very analytical in everything that I do. Even during the crash, I knew we had to get out, I knew what we had to do. Due to my experience as a pilot I knew at a certain point as events unfolded that we weren't going to die.

'Now when I get on a plane I check the life jackets are there. I haven't told my kids what happened in Hong Kong because I don't want to worry them. I don't want them to think that when I go away they are going to think I am going to crash.''

Ames is at pains to stress that Sky Shuttle pilot Richard Moffatt did a great job of getting the aircraft down, but subsequent events have left a bitter taste. 'Look, I did what any other bloke would have done in the situation, but the truth is, if it hadn't have been for what I had done then someone would have died. They haven't even had the common decency to get in touch or do anything.

'There was a lot of press around the hospital and the hotel after the crash and we didn't talk to them, we haven't talked until now.

'But since that day it has been like a wall of silence from Sky Shuttle. It's not the money it is the principle. They've got enough money to get everyone sorted out, now they seem to be saying you'll have to take us to court if you want any of your money back.

'I was in a helicopter which I paid to go on, it crashed, I can prove that I was on it, end of story. Just pay me the money you actually owe me. I couldn't help my BlackBerry getting wet, I was trying to save someone's life at the time. My other mobile didn't get wet, so I am not claiming for it.''

Sky Shuttle has declined to comment in detail, citing the continuing investigation into the crash and reiterating that there were enough life jackets on board. They say they are dealing with passenger claims in accordance with the law.

I found out about the Caribbean crash when I arrived ... it just brought every thing flooding back

Matt Ames, helicopter crash survivor and businessman