Lakenheath/Norfolk: First bodies are removed from helicopter which crashed in Cley
14:30 09 January 2014
Archant Norfolk 2014
The first of the victims of Tuesday’s helicopter crash have been removed from the wreckage, as police hand over the site to air accident investigators.
Norfolk coroner Jacqueline Lake said this lunchtime she had completed her preliminary enquiries and concluded the four victims all had “a relevant association with a visiting force”, as defined by the Coroners and Justice Act 2009.
“As a result, in the absence of a direction by the Lord Chancellor, I am required by law not to begin a coroner investigation into their deaths,” said Mrs Lake.
“I wish to offer my sympathy to the families, friends and colleagues of the four service personnel who died.”
The bodies of the four USAF military crew members, killed in the helicopter crash on Cley marshes on Tuesday evening, will now be taken to the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital by private ambulance, accompanied by two police cars.
Police said no evidence has been found to suggest the crash was a criminal matter and will hand over their work to date to the crash investigators. The USAF, supported by the Ministry of Defence, will then lead the continuing investigation into the circumstances of the crash.
Assistant Chief Constable Nick Dean, who has led the police response to the crash, said: “As has been the case throughout this investigation, our thoughts remain with the families and friends of the military personnel who lost their lives in this tragic incident.
“Even though our colleagues from the USAF, supported by the MoD, will now lead the ongoing enquiries, we will continue to support their work, engaging with local communities and providing reassurance and assistance where required.”
Speaking at Salthouse earlier today, Chief Supt Bob Scully said the police’s “number one priority” had been the recovery of the bodies from the accident site, adding that it would be done in a “sensitive and dignified” way.
Mr Scully said the whole investigation process of the marshland site could take several weeks.
He added: “We hope the community will be tolerant of the disruption caused. There has been a lot of work done over the last two days. There is an awful lot of staff down there.”
The scene remains cordoned off and road closures are in place on the A149 between Salthouse and Old Woman’s Lane.
Four airmen were killed when the Pave Hawk HH-60G helicopter crashed at around 7pm on Tuesday. They were named last night as Captains Christopher S Stover, 28, and Sean M Ruane, 31, Technical Support Sergeant Dale E Mathews, 37, and Staff Sergeant Afton M Ponce, 28.
Ch Supt Scully said the weather had “deteriorated” and hampered the recovery effort, without making it impossible.
RAF mountain rescue vans and other vehicles carrying heavy equipment have been slowly arriving on the crash site.
The A149 is expected to be closed until early next week but the marsh area near the helicopter debris could remain shut for weeks.