Leigh engineer in helicopter crash was caught in storm

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AN engineer from Leigh died in a helicopter crash in Africa when the pilot flew into the ground while trying to fly through a thunderstorm in the dark, an inquest heard.

Kevin Ayre was among four people killed instantly along with their South African pilot who had become “disorientated”.

The two-helicopter team was returning from checking the site of a fatal road accident involving a truck delivering drilling supplies to a site in Angola four days earlier in November 2007, an inquest heard.

Mr Ayre, 50, was operations managers in a joint venture organisation. His flight home was initially delayed by heavy rain but it was then decided to take off despite a warning a storm was on the way, the hearing in York was told.

Also killed were Australian David Hopgood, Chief Operating Officer for the mining company, the South African pilot Kottie Breedt and Namibian drilling expert Louwrens Prinsloo.

An investigation by the Angolan authorities revealed the cause of the crash was “pilot spatial disorientation”.

This was due to “bad weather, night flying and unfamiliar terrain”according to York Coroner Donald Coverdale.

Recording verdicts of accidental deaths from multiple injuries on both victims, he added: “In all the circumstances, what has happened here was just a tragic accident. Attempts to get any further information have proved fruitless.” The hearing was told the diamond hunt in Angola was called off following the tragedy.

Mr Ayre’s widow, Elaine said her husband was a fit and healthy man who had worked all over Africa for 20 years.