Air accident investigators have launched a “serious incident” probe after a chartered helicopter hired by Sir Paul McCartney and his wife Nancy Shevell narrowly avoided a potentially fatal crash.
The couple were in a £5 million Sikorsky S-76C on the night of 3 May 2012 when the pilot became disorientated by bad weather and the helicopter plunged towards trees.
Earlier in the evening Sir Paul and Lady McCartney attended the launch of Mary McCartney’s vegetarian cookbook, Food, at Liberty in London’s West End. They chartered the nine-seater helicopter, owned by Air Harrods, and took off from Battersea heliport in south London at 9.30pm, approaching the couple’s East Sussex home 25 minutes later.
The pilot attempted to land on the helipad at the McCartney estate but poor weather and low visibility caused the helicopter to fly perilously close to nearby trees.
He was going to land and realised he wasn’t in control of the aircraft because of the weather conditions and visibility. He pulled in lots of power to climb away and correct the aircraft to its proper flightpath and missed whatever it was by two feet.
Chief executive, British Helicopter Association
A report by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) has classed the event as a “serious incident… “involving circumstances indicating that an accident nearly occurred”.
The AAIB report reveals that the helicopter’s altimeter was “two feet” from the tree tops before the 55-year-old pilot managed to execute a climb. “While manoeuvring, the commander became disorientated and the helicopter descended towards tops of trees in the forested area to the south and west of the landing site,” it notes.
The pilot aborted the landing and the couple landed safely at Lydd Airport in Kent, 15 miles from their home in Rye.
A spokesman for Sir Paul said: “Paul has been spoken to. It has been put to him, everything. It’s a no comment.”