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‘It was eerily silent’: Memories of the Gillingham helicopter disaster five years on

PUBLISHED: 06:00 13 March 2019

The helicopter crash scene on farmland at Gillingham in Norfolk which killed four people.

Picture: James Bass

The helicopter crash scene on farmland at Gillingham in Norfolk which killed four people. Picture: James Bass

A doctor has recollected the harrowing moment he navigated through suffocating thick fog to a helicopter crash site to confirm the deaths of four people.

The helicopter crash scene on farmland at Gillingham in Norfolk which killed four people.

Picture: James BassThe helicopter crash scene on farmland at Gillingham in Norfolk which killed four people. Picture: James Bass

Today marks five years since the Gillingham helicopter crash, which claimed the life of millionaire businessman Lord Ballyedmond, also known as Dr Edward Haughey, along with Declan Small, pilot Captain Carl Dickerson and co-pilot Captain Lee Hoyle, all from Northern Ireland.

Dr Tim Morton was volunteering at the Norfolk Accident Rescue Service when he was called to the aircraft accident near his home in Beccles.

“It seems hard to believe it was five years ago. I recall finishing surgery, going home and eating supper when I was requested to attend.

“What struck me was the thick fog which had accumulated in that time. It was only knowing the roads so well that I could get to Gillingham Hall,” Dr Morton said.

Handout photo dated 02/10/03 issued by Harrison Photography of Northern Irish Conservative peer Lord Ballyedmond, who was one of four men killed when an AgustaWestland AW139 helicopter crashed in thick fog in a field in Gillingham, near Beccles, Norfolk, at 7.30pm yesterday. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday March 14, 2014. Known as Edward Haughey until he was made a life peer in 2004, he owned Gillingham Hall, a stately home near the crash site, according to the Register of Lords' Interests. See PA story ACCIDENT Helicopter. Photo credit should read: John Harrison/Harrison Photography/PA Wire

NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder.Handout photo dated 02/10/03 issued by Harrison Photography of Northern Irish Conservative peer Lord Ballyedmond, who was one of four men killed when an AgustaWestland AW139 helicopter crashed in thick fog in a field in Gillingham, near Beccles, Norfolk, at 7.30pm yesterday. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday March 14, 2014. Known as Edward Haughey until he was made a life peer in 2004, he owned Gillingham Hall, a stately home near the crash site, according to the Register of Lords' Interests. See PA story ACCIDENT Helicopter. Photo credit should read: John Harrison/Harrison Photography/PA Wire NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder.

As one of the only two paramedics allowed on the crash site, he said it was a “very surreal atmosphere, because of all the fog” as he and critical care paramedic Rod Wells walked towards the site to confirm the deaths.

“It was evident very quickly that life was extinct. I do remember going back for a little debrief.

“I don’t dwell on it, I often drive past the crash site and I must admit you look across the open field and reconcile what happened,” he said.

As the thick fog settled the details emerged of how the four men lost their lives after the helicopter plunged from the night sky on the edge of the village.

The helicopter crash scene on farmland at Gillingham in Norfolk which killed four people.

Picture: James BassThe helicopter crash scene on farmland at Gillingham in Norfolk which killed four people. Picture: James Bass

The aircraft fell with such impact it bounced more than 60m, and the wreckage was scattered more than 150sq m, narrowly missing the nearby McDonalds restaurant and BP garage.

Villagers have familiar memories of the thick fog, the pulsating sound of a helicopter the undeniable pierce of police sirens.

One woman, who wished not to be named, said: “My husband and I had just got into the McDonalds carpark when it went down. I could only hear but not see anything because the fog was so thick. We drove up Yarmouth Road and it was eerily silent.”

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