Video: Investigation continues this morning into Gillingham helicopter crash
PUBLISHED: 09:37 14 March 2014 | UPDATED: 09:37 14 March 2014
Investigations are continuing this morning into the cause of a helicopter crash which killed four people on the Suffolk/Norfolk border last night.
Four people have died in the helicopter crash last night. The helicopter was en route to Northern Ireland and Norfolk police have been in contact with the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
Police were called to Gillingham, near Beccles at about 7.30pm and discovered the crash site after searching the area, where conditions were very foggy.
Norfolk Police said the helicopter had been confirmed as a civilian aircraft and the four occupants on board were thought to have died in the crash.
The East of England Ambulance Service have now stood down. In a statement they said: “Sadly, it is believed that four people in the helicopter are believed to have died in the crash. Ambulance resources have now been stood down from the scene. Our thoughts are with the family and friends of those who have lost their lives tonight.”
The Ambulance Service were called at 7.45pm and sent a number of resources to the incident including two ambulance officers, three ambulances, two doctors and one rapid response car.
Eyewitness Michael Tabby described how he joined the search after hearing “a loud bang” and an engine subsiding.
He said: “I was outside McDonalds with my friend when we heard a helicopter coming in quite low.
“It sounded like it was in difficulty and was trying to land opposite where there is private helicopter landing pad.
“It sounded as though it then tried to climb and crossed the road in the direction of Norwich and then there was loud bang followed by the sound of jet engine winding down.
“My friend called the police and we tried searching the fields opposite with two other men but we could not find anything.”
At a press conference just after 1am this morning, Insp. Louis Provart said: “I can confirm this evening that four people have died following a helicopter crash in Gillingham near Beccles. We received a call around 7.30pm from a member of the public reported hearing the sound of a loud noise.
“Officers were deployed to the scene and began searching with the assistance of the police helicopter… The crash scene is in a field with wooded area nearby. All four people have been found deceased. Next of kin are currently being informed.
“Officers will remain on scene and remains on the cordon whilst investigations are being carried out. Of course, our thoughts are with the families and friends of those who have died this evening.”
He added: “It’s obviously a complex scene at the moment.”
Colin Worboys, the proprietor of The White Lion Pub in Mardle Road, Beccles, said: “I’ve seen a lot of activity on the main road with emergency services going past. Nobody knew what it was about but one customer said he’d seen emergency services around the church in Gillingham.”
Early reports on Facebook suggest the helicopter crashed behind the church in the village. It is believed to have crashed in woodland.
Taxi driver Mark Murray, 22, from Beccles, said: “There is a large stately home nearby and you often see helicopters coming and going from there.
“When they have a game shoot the guests often all arrive in separate helicopters. We don’t know if that is linked, but that’s the only helicopter activity we see in this area.”
A member of bar staff at the Decoy Tavern in Fritton said there had been a flurry of activity at around 8pm.
She said: “There were two ambulances, a police patrol car and a paramedic car, but we’ve not heard or seen anything since. The road is clear and the traffic is going both ways at the moment.”
Lorraine Greenwood, who lives in Church Road, Gillingham, said: “From about 8pm there have been loads of police cars, fire engines and ambulances going past here.
“I don’t think they were sure where it was in the fog because some were going round the roundabout and back again.
“I didn’t hear any crash but I did see two other helicopters that looked like police helicopters circling.”
Roland Bronk, owner of The Swan House inn and restaurant in Beccles said it was “very foggy” in the area. Mr Bronk said he heard customers talk about “a lot of police activity and ambulances”.
Helen Roberts, a forecaster at the Met Office, confirmed that large parts of East Anglia had been hit by mist tonight.
She said: “There has certainly been some fog around south Norfolk, and the Norwich area has been in fog.
“There has been widespread mist around East Anglia and low visibility quite widely across East Anglia. Mist means low visibility, and it has been misty quite widely throughout the evening.”
One Twitter user, Andrew89mufc, described hearing the helicopter coming down near his house.
He wrote: “I live in Worlingham on Park Drive. My garden backs on to the woodland leading to Gillingham. I heard a helicopter circling the house for about 15 mins at around 7:45. This may have been air ambulance or police searching tho.”
He added: “Can’t see my hand in front of my face. No sign of scene of crash.”
A spokesman for the Air Accidents Investigation Branch said it will be sending a team to investigate.
To assist with enquiries the exit from the Gillingham roundabout towards Great Yarmouth on the A143. The A143 is also closed at the junction with Hallow Way Hill and Rectory Road in Gillingham is also closed. Drivers are advised to avoid the area, local diversions are being put in place.