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Pilot joked about crash helicopter.

Byline: By Sophie Doughty

A helicopter that crashed, killing a Tyneside man, was described as a "rattly old bugger" by its pilot just two weeks before the tragedy.

Eddie Lapsley, 56, from Strothers Terrace in Rowlands Gill, Gateshead, and pilot Philip Ward, 48, were killed when the chopper came down nose-first in a field in Scotland almost two years ago.

An inquiry into the crash has heard how Captain Ward, from Glasgow, joked about the age of the chopper during a regular 50-hour inspection of the Bell 206 Jet Ranger a fortnight before it came down in a field near Coupar Angus, Perthshire.

Aviation engineer Andrew Wilson, 40, told a fatal accident inquiry in Perth yesterday that Captain Ward was "religious" about the safety of his aircraft.

He said: "He was a creature of habit. He had a set routine. That is the nature of flying; you cannot check the aircraft enough before going flying.

"I am sure he said 'it's a bit of a rattly old bugger' but for a Jet Ranger that is not an abnormal expression.

"They are old, but they are still airworthy. It wasn't said as a concern. It was just a general comment about the aircraft.

"I hesitate to say it was said in jest. If he had any concern about the aircraft he would not have flown it."

Air Accident Investigation branch inspector Keith Conradie told the inquiry Captain Ward was given no chance to avoid the fatal crash.

The inquiry has heard how major parts of the helicopter were seen falling off shortly before it plummeted to the ground.

The rear rotor, tail fin stabiliser and gearbox all detached from the helicopter, making it front-heavy and causing it to nosedive to the ground.

The rotor then sliced through the cabin of the aircraft and both the pilot and observer Mr Lapsley were found dead at the scene. They had been inspecting pipelines at the time of the accident on December 21, 2005.

Mr Conradie said: "The first items in the wreckage trail were items associated with the rear part of the helicopter.

"The vertical fin came away, swinging underneath and into the area of the tail rotor. This caused the tail rotor and gearbox to depart the helicopter."

The inquiry, before Sheriff Lindsay Foulis, continues.
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:May 31, 2007
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