Helicopter tragedy in Persian Gulf

IPSWICH-born Royal Navy captain Alan Massey today spoke of the "tragic loss" after seven crew members were killed in a mid-air helicopter collision.HMS Ark Royal captain Capt Massey said two Royal Navy Sea King Airborne Early Warning helicopters collided in mid-air over international waters in the Gulf at around 4.

IPSWICH-born Royal Navy captain Alan Massey today spoke of the "tragic loss" after seven crew members were killed in a mid-air helicopter collision.

HMS Ark Royal captain Capt Massey said two Royal Navy Sea King Airborne Early Warning helicopters collided in mid-air over international waters in the Gulf at around 4.30am (1.30am GMT) today.

The collision, which happened within sight of the ship, claimed the lives of six British crew members and one American.

Capt Massey, who was educated at Ipswich's Northgate High School, said: "It's a huge loss to everyone on board. They were professional, superb aviators and they had been doing extremely important missions.


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"They were ship mates and colleagues and comrades of all of us on board. As you can imagine, the loss is being felt across the whole ship."

Captain Massey, who has been commanding officer on Ark Royal since last year, said that night-time flying and conducting operations in combat zones were not without risks and the crew were well-aware of what could go wrong.

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"They had been operating in arduous conditions day-in, day-out for weeks on end. The weather was relatively clear. Yes, it was in the dark, however, we work 24 hours a day, round the clock," he said.

A Royal Navy investigation is underway into the cause of the accident, which happened five miles away from the ship. It is thought one of the helicopters had been refuelling on board the aircraft carrier and was just leaving, while the other was thought to have been returning from a mission.

Capt Massey said: "We all know that military flying is an inherently risky business and those risks increase when you fly at night.

"They increase perhaps still further when you fly under operational pressure but this is what we're paid to do.

"These aircrew, like all the other aircrew out here, are extremely professional, well-trained. This was a tragic accident."

The next of kin of the crew members were today being informed of the accident, which is the second involving coalition forces in two days.

On Friday a U.S. Marine CH-46 helicopter crashed in Kuwait, killing all 12 people aboard.

The eight British and four American dead were the first coalition casualties of the war against Iraq

A spokesman for the Royal Navy said neither accident was the result of "enemy action".

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