High winds could have brought Little Hereford man's copter down

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INTENSE winds may have caused a helicopter carrying two award-winning pilots to crash in the French Alps.

Martin Rutty, from Little Hereford, and Simon Lichenstien, from Bircher, were both killed when their Robinson 22 helicopter came down in the Tourettes-sur-Loup valley in December 2010.

Last week, an inquest in Hereford heard that the pair, who together won the British Helicopter Championship eight times, met strong turbulence on their fateful last journey.

Although the weather conditions were described as "clear with good visibility", winds reached 55 knots. The coroner was told that 25 knots are considered "strong".

An examination of the helicopter found that the lower stop of the main rotor blades was broken off while another part of the blade was also located near to the scene.

Geraint Herbert, a senior inspector at the Air Accident Investigation Branch of the Department for Transport, told the hearing that strong winds and turbulence can cause the rotor to rock so much that it can bump into the mast and cause a "catastrophic break".

“If you have excessive impact on the controls in certain characteristics it will cause mast bumping which can detach a blade," he added.

The inquest heard that no one could be certain who was flying the helicopter when it came down as there was dual control.

But Mr Herbert said it was likely that the pilot had inadvertently taken an “inappropriate” action on the flight controls which had bumped the rotor mast.

That would have led to detachment of the stop of the lower blades and a change in direction, he said.

Roland Wooderson, assistant coroner for Herefordshire, confirmed that strong winds may have played a part in the pair's death.

“The pilot, surprised by a strong gust of wind took an inappropriate but possible instinctive action on the flight controls which bumped the rotor mast,” he added.

The coroner, who said that 50-year-old Mr Rutty died from multiple injuries, massive skull injuries with an antecedent of trauma and helicopter accident, recorded a verdict of accidental death.

• Mr Wooderson blamed the three-year delay into holding the inquest on a "lack of engagement" from French authorities.

This is also believed to be the reason as to the delay into an official inquest for 49-year-old Mr Lichenstein.

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