Helicopter pair were ‘brave and selfless’

BRAVE: Philip Gray died in a helicopter crash
BRAVE: Philip Gray died in a helicopter crash

The harrowing moment a helicopter crashed killing a Chorley businessman and his pilot has been relived at an inquest.

Father-of-one Philip Gray, 45, of Bradshaw Lane, Mawdesley, was the managing director of Adlington-based construction firm Naylor and Walkden.

He was on a flying lesson with pilot Steven Lewis, 38, from Rainhill, in Merseyside, when they were killed in the crash on Barnaby’s Sands, near Knott End, Over Wyre, on September 22, 2009.

Witness John Howard-Pritchard, a retired school teacher who lives in Carleton, told an inquest into their deaths that he heard a high-pitched noise coming from the engine of the helicopter which flew over his house just before 12pm.

Mr Howard-Pritchard said: “When I noticed the aircraft, I could tell that it was in trouble in the way it was behaving.

“I truly believe that the two pilots of the aircraft, that at this point was a stricken aircraft, avoided the chance of putting it down in school playing fields.

“They did in fact turn the aircraft towards the River Wyre and open ground thus avoiding even greater tragedy.”

He thanked them for their ‘brave and selfless actions’ steering the helicopter from the built-up area, including his daughter’s school, to the estuary.

The families of both men thanked Mr Howard-Pritchard, who lives around seven miles away from the crash site, for his words at Thursday’s inquest at Preston Coroner’s Court.

Describing seeing the two-seater aircraft on the sunny and calm autumn morning, he said: “It was flying over and it was making funny noises from the engine.

“It was unlike what I would normally hear. It sounded like it was misfiring. After it flew over, it changed direction suddenly.

“It dropped in height at one stage then regained height. It was a matter of four or five minutes that I watched it. As it flew off, I lost sight of it.”

At 12.10pm, Mr Howard-Pritchard said he was inside his house when he heard a loud ‘thump’.

Coroner James Adeley said passenger Mr Gray and pilot Mr Lewis would have died instantly.

Mr Gray’s son Michael, 28, said his father had been inspired to start lessons after enjoying a helicopter ride above the Grand Canyon while on holiday in Las Vegas.

Michael, who lives in Eccleston, said: “He was more like my best mate than my dad. I was a mess after it happened, heartbroken.”

His inquest heard he had been having lessons for around six months when tragedy struck.

The inquest was adjourned to resume on April 11.