‘Misadventure’ verdict on Rhinog helicopter crash

North Wales Police

A coroner says ”sheer bad luck” led to a helicopter crash in Snowdonia which killed five members of the same family.

Kevin Burke was flying a helicopter when it crashed in poor weather into Rhinog Fawr in March 2017.

Archive family photo: Kevin and Ruth Burke

Mr Burke (56), a qualified pilot originally from Manchester, died along with his wife Ruth (49), his two brothers Donald (55) and Barry (51) and Donald’s wife Sharon (48) – they were all from the Milton Keynes area.

An inquest in Caernarfon has recorded a verdict of misadventure. An air accident report, released almost a year after the crash, concluded low cloud had played a significant role in the tragedy.

The hearing was told there were no faults with the controls of the Airbus Twin Squirrel helicopter, which was being flown from an airfield near Luton to a family christening in Dublin. But low cloud meant visibility in the area was down to only ten yards in some places.

AAIB investigator Paul Hannant said although Mr Burke was a highly experienced pilot, his licence did not allow him to fly in cloud.

The pilot had flown the same route to Ireland in the past and just a few weeks before the crash, he demonstrated an ability to turn away in poor visibility during a licence test.

A Home Office pathologist told the hearing that all five people were killed on impact by high speed trauma – they had to be identified via their dental records.

Archive family photo: Donald and Sharon Burke

A major search was launched when radar contact with the Coastguard was lost over Caernarfon Bay – but the focus of the operation soon turned from the sea to the Trawsfynydd area.

A police inspector told the inquest that ”a scene of unbelievable devastation” was found by an RAF mountain rescue team after a two-hour walk and scramble from the nearest road.

They found wreckage was spread over a couple of hundred metres below the summit – any attempt to recover the bodies that day were abandoned because the already poor weather was deteriorating.

Archive family photo: Barry Burke

It took two days for the five bodies to be recovered from the mountainside with up to eighty people involved in the operation. It took up to five days before the wreckage of the helicopter was recovered and taken to the Air Accident Investigation Branch in Farnborough.

North West Wales coroner Dewi Pritchard Jones said despite reporting no faults with the aircraft, instruments on board would have not given much warning as it approached Rhinog Fawr.

He said: ”This aircraft wasn’t greatly below its safe height. It just clipped the top of the mountain…ideally, because of the limitations of the pilot’s licence he probably should have turned back. But he carried on.”

”Unfortunately, the vertical profile shows the aircraft descending to a height where it was virtually inevitable it would collide with one of the ridges in that area.”

Members of the Burke family attended the inquest but did not make any public comment at its conclusion.

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