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Pilot caught out by cloud

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: September 12, 2012

  • CLOSED: Winsford Cottage Hospital.


A helicopter pilot died when his aircraft hurtled to the ground at 140pmh, exploding into a "ball of flame", an inquest heard.

Christopher Dennis Watts, 45, a farmer, businessman and experienced pilot, flew into a patch of cloud, became disorientated and lost control of the aircraft.

He was thrown clear of the helicopter and died instantly from multiple injuries.

The jury at an inquest at Truro were told on Tuesday that the five-year-old black Robinson RR44 helicopter had no defects and was well-maintained.

Mr Watts, from Bristol, was flying alone to meet friends at Padstow, North Cornwall, on July 24 last year.

The tragedy happened at 2.27pm in a field between Week St Mary and Marhamchurch, near Bude.

Eyewitness Gail Moorwood, a radiologist, said she watched from about a quarter of a mile away, as the crash happened.

She said: "The nose-part was slightly forward. It appeared to just drop out of the sky. It was going straight down and exploded in a bright orange ball of flame."

In a written statement read out to the court, Martin Smith, an air traffic controller at Newquay Airport, said at 2.25pm Mr Watts radioed to report he was lost in cloud and needed help.

The Air Accident Investigations Branch (AAIB) was in charge of the investigation.

Mark Ford, AAIB senior operational investigator said the radio transmission lasted for 36 seconds.

He said: "Our investigations showed the helicopter descended at 140mph before striking the ground. The helicopter was in a normal operational state.

"Mr Watts told the air traffic controller: 'I've got myself in a bit of difficulty here and have got lost in cloud."

He said Mr Watts added: "What am I doing?" before the helicopter started to descend rapidly.

Mr Watts had had an international flying licence he obtained in South Africa since 2007 and had clocked-up 285 flying hours.

Marcus Cook, AAIB senior flight recording investigator, said when Mr Watts encountered deteriorating weather conditions he had "sensibly" turned around.

In order to escape the cloud and avoid the ground, he began to fly higher.

Mr Cook said: "As the helicopter climbed it became unstable and he became disorientated in the cloud.

"He subsequently lost control of the helicopter."

The jury of five men and four women returned a verdict of accidental death.

Mr Watts from Redhilll, Bristol, was owner and managing director of Aldwick Court Farm Hospitality in Somerset, which runs corporate events, team-building and family fun days.

He leaves his mother, Mary, and sisters Carole and Sandy.

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