Archbishop of Armagh offers condolences after Norfolk helicopter crash

The wreckage of a helicopter alongside the A146 after four people have died when a helicopter came down in thick fog in a field in Gillingham, near Beccles, Norfolk, at 7.30pm yesterday.

The Archbishop of Armagh has expressed sympathy for the family of Lord Ballyedmond, who died in a helicopter crash in Gillingham, Norfolk, on Thursday evening.

Lord Ballyedmond, a Conservative peer and the richest man in Northern Ireland, was also on the board of governors for the Armagh Observatory and Planetarium, alongside Archbishop Richard Clarke.

Speaking for the board of governors, Dr Clarke said: "I wish to express my sincere condolences to those who have been so suddenly bereaved by yesterday evening's helicopter crash."

Dr Clarke described Lord Ballyedmond as a "respected" member of the Observatory and Planetarium's board of governors, who had made "many valuable contributions" to Northern Irish society.

Lord Ballyedmond was founder of veterinary pharmaceutical firm Norbrook Laboratories, which employs thousands in the Newry area of County Down.

Lord Empey, Ulster Unionist peer said on the BBC that the laboratories had "brought high-quality employment opportunities to this country during its darkest days".

Archbishop Clarke extended his condolences to Lord Ballyedmond's relatives and those working to clear the wreckage and investigate the situation.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with those both currently working at the scene of the crash and those coming to terms with this tragic news."

The cause of the crash is as yet unknown, but witnesses reported that there was heavy fog in the area at the time, and that the helicopter went down very quickly after its launch, yesterday at 19:30 hrs.

Speaking to the BBC, Superintendent Dave Marshall of Norfolk Police said: "Police, along with our emergency service colleagues and the Air Accident Investigation Branch are now working towards the dignified removal of the four bodies, which is expected to take place this afternoon, full examination of the scene and opening roads as quickly as possible."

The helicopter is known to have been a civilian model Augusta Westland AW139.

Lord Ballyedmond had a long standing interest in helicopters, setting up an air travel company called Haughey Air, a charter helicopter firm which later purchased a 150-year lease on Carlisle Airport.

This is not the first time one of Lord Ballyemond's helicopters has crashed. In December 1996 one of Lord Ballyemond's helicopters crashed on Carlingford Mountain in the Republic of Ireland. There were three casualties.

It is also the second helicopter crash in this area of Norfolk in recent months. In January, a US military helicopter crashed in Cley next the Sea while on a low flying training exercise, killing four.

Lord Empey described the loss of Lord Ballyedmond as a "tragic accident [that] has cut short the life of a man who had still much to give.

"The family circle will be numbed by the tragedy."