EYEWITNESSES heard a helicopter engine “struggling” moments before it plunged into the sea killing the pilot and passenger on board, an inquest was told.
Capt Brian Bridgman was returning from a trip taking people sightseeing in Scotland with his friend John Kent when the helicopter crashed off the cliffs at Flamborough Head in September 2014.
Yvonne Ward, who was out birdwatching with her husband, Kenneth, said the engine of the Agusta Bell 206B Jet Ranger II sounded “as if it wasn’t firing on all cylinders... it didn’t sound right”.
The aircraft appeared to slowly lose altitude as it came straight towards them on the clifftop, when it suddenly turned away back into the bay, and went onto its side.
“It made a sort of spluttering and then a crack,” said Mrs Ward. “(It happened) very, very quickly.”
Charles Rhodes, who was playing golf on the clifftop course, said in a statement: “I heard a screech sound, then it banked to the right as if the pilot was attempting to land in the cornfield, then it just dropped and I lost sight of it.”
The bodies of Capt Bridgman, 58, from Canterbury in Kent, and Mr Kent, 50, from Romford in London, were later recovered from the wreckage.
The inquest jury heard that the aircraft had suffered a “severe mechanical failure” which Assistant Coroner Oliver Longstaff said “no one seems to have been able to predict”. An overhaul of the engine’s turbine assembly had been carried out by specialists in the USA in 2011 and it had only had a routine check earlier in September.
The court heard from Mr Kent’s mother Iris, who described her son in a statement as a man with a passion for engineering and who worked as an electrical maintenance engineer for the NHS.
Mr Kent had met Capt Bridgman when he worked for him at his company, LWC Engineering. Capt Bridgman sold the firm in 2010 and became chief pilot for Kent-based HeliCharter Ltd. Mrs Kent thought her son would have been aiming to get a pilot’s licence, and added: “John always lived life to the fullest. He was a happy and positive person.”
Timothy Bridgman also paid tribute to his father, saying he had been the happiest he could recall, doing a job he loved. Colleagues had found the accident “incomprehensible”. A qualified instructor and examiner for the Civil Aviation Authority, he had “a meticulous eye for detail”.
“Taking chances was not in Dad’s vocabulary, safety was his number one priority,” he added.
About 40 minutes before the crash, the helicopter landed in a heavy sea mist at Boggle Hole, close to Ravenscar.
Andrew Blomfield heard it flying over his house so close he thought the chimney pots would get knocked off and went to investigate when a neighbour rang him to say it had landed in one of his fields. He found Capt Bridgman standing in front of the helicopter and Mr Kent wiping condensation off the windows. He invited them to stay in one of their holiday cottages, and later heard the helicopter had crashed.
However, witnesses said the mist had cleared further down the coast at Flamborough before the accident.
Darren Jones, the compliance monitoring and quality assurance manager for HeliCharter Ltd, said employees had been devastated by the loss of their “very conscientious” chief pilot. Asked about how they reacted to the news of the mechanical failure, he said: “It is something that has been looked at. We couldn’t predict it.”