An entrepreneur and politician who was Northern Ireland’s richest man was among four people killed when a helicopter crashed in thick fog in eastern England late on Thursday.
Lord Ballyedmond, a Conservative peer in the House of Lords, was in the twin-engined AgustaWestland AW139 when it came down near the town of Beccles in Norfolk.
The 70-year-old, known as Edward Haughey until he was made a peer in 2004, was founder and chairman of Norbrook, a veterinary pharmaceuticals company.
Haughey owned Gillingham Hall, a stately home near the crash site. His personal fortune was worth £860 million (HK$11.1 billion), according to The Sunday Times newspaper’s Rich List last year.
It has emerged that the entrepreneur had sued the manufacturer of his helicopter over safety concerns including a “big hole” in one of the rotor blades and oil leaks.
Reports said Ballyedmond’s company Haughey Air lodged a writ against AgustaWestland in September last year over concerns about the in-flight mapping systems of a helicopter supplied by them.
Legal papers, lodged at the High Court on September 20, reportedly said: “The aircraft suffered from a number of defects and reliability problems, including there being a big hole in one of its blades, oil leaks from the main gearbox, unexplained vibrations and failures of the IFEEL systems (internal entertainment, communication, lighting heating and electronic maps systems) and FIPS (Full Ice Protection System).
“The repairs and modifications made to the aircraft by the defendant following delivery resulted in a total of 85 days during which the aircraft could not be used by the claimant between 14 September 2012 and 30 April 2013.”
The peer was said to be seeking a refund on the £10.7 million purchase price of the helicopter.
A spokesman for AgustaWestland said it could not comment on possible defects with Lord Ballyedmond’s helicopter but said it was investigating.
Officers were called to the accident scene at 7.30pm local time after members of the public reported hearing a loud crash, Norfolk police said.
“The crash site is in a field containing some wooded area and all four occupants on board the helicopter were pronounced dead at the scene,” the force said in a statement.
Only a limited investigation of the crash site had been possible in the dark and foggy conditions and a more detailed forensic examination was due to take place on Friday, they added.
The site was sealed off as police investigators carried out initial enquiries while air accident investigators were sent to the scene.
Early reports suggested that the helicopter was heading to Northern Ireland, though police refused to comment on its departure point or its planned destination.
Local resident Roland Bronk said it had been “very foggy” in the area at the time of the crash.
A Met Office forecaster confirmed it was foggy at the time.
The crash site is 72 kilometres from where a US military helicopter came down during a training exercise in January, killing four crew members.