Inquiry starts into helicopter crash tragedy

Air accident investigators were last night at the scene of a helicopter crash that killed three people who were flying from Northern Ireland to England.

A major recovery effort was in operation throughout the day at a remote site in the Mountains of Mourne in Co Down.

The Agusta helicopter was travelling from Enniskillen’s St Angelo airport in Co Fermanagh where the passengers had been on a hunting trip, but their aircraft crashed at around 4pm on Saturday at the mountainous Leitrim Lodge Picnic area near Hilltown.

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Mountain rescue teams, the coastguard and other emergency services were alerted when a member of the public reported seeing an aircraft in distress.

After a lengthy recovery operation police confirmed that the pilot and his two passengers were killed.

South Down MP Margaret Ritchie said: “The local community is in absolute shock, but their thoughts are with the families and friends of the victims. Their thoughts and prayers are with them. What should have been a happy occasion has ended in tragedy.”

The leader of the nationalist SDLP visited the teams working at the crash site today. She praised their efforts and said they had faced a tough task accessing the top of Eagle Mountain where she said the crash took place.

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The Mournes area is internationally renowned for its scenery.

The mountain range, on the coastline of south Co Down, is designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty. The highest mountain, Slieve Donard, is nearly 3,000ft high.

Sinn Fein MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone Michelle Gildernew said: “The shock of this accident has been felt by people right across Co Down and Co Fermanagh.”

In June last year three men were killed when their light aircraft crashed into a field near Kilkeel, Co Down.

The coastal community has also been hit by fishing tragedies in recent years.

And four police officers were also killed when their 4x4 vehicle crashed on a winding road near Kilkeel in November 2008.