Verdict Returned In Helicopter Crash Inquest

Victim’s Family Continue Search For Answers


Lawyers representing the family of a pilot instructor who died when the helicopter he was flying in plummeted to the ground, killing him and his student, have demanded answers from the aircraft’s manufacturer as to why its engine lost power.

The call from aviation experts at Irwin Mitchell comes today (Tuesday 12 April) after the conclusion of a four day inquest (two in March, two in April) into the death of the pair in the horrific crash near Blackpool in 2009, which saw the engine of a two-seater Schweizer 269 helicopter stop working and thereafter the helicopter fall from the sky.

HM Coroner James Adeley recorded a narrative verdict at Preston Coroner’s Court after a jury found that the death of Steven Lewis, 38, from Rainhill and his pupil Philip Gray, was caused by the engine of the helicopter losing power which forced the Schweizer into an auto-rotation, meaning the pilot had limited options to land it safely.

At the inquest, the jury heard from the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) who said that immediately prior to Steven transmitting a mayday call on September 22nd 2009, the helicopter was being flown within all safety limitations and rules.

Now, leading aviation lawyers from Irwin Mitchell’s specialist team have vowed to continue helping the Lewis family in their battle for answers and are urging the aircraft manufacturer to undertake further investigations to identify what caused the engine to lose power. 

Irwin Mitchell’s call comes after an AAIB expert said a review of pilot check procedures on the engine could improve safety, prompting the coroner to make recommendations urging Schweizer to reconsider its flight manual accordingly.

Jim Morris, an ex-RAF pilot and expert for Irwin Mitchell’s aviation team acted for Steven’s family during the four-day inquest.  He said: “Steven was a talented helicopter instructor pilot who did all he could to save the aircraft and his student, Philip Gray, following the sudden engine failure. 

“This was a pilot training flight that was flown in good weather conditions and within all relevant rules and limits but, tragically, when the engine lost power Steven was not in a position to glide the helicopter to a safe landing spot, despite his best efforts.“

Morris went onto pay tribute to the pilot who he said ‘remained a constant professional until the end’ demonstrated by the tone and content of his mayday call, which he transmitted around 13 seconds before the fatal impact.

“The loss of engine power was the cause of the crash but, as yet, we don’t know what caused that”, he said. “A number of underlying issues were identified by the AAIB but they were unable to confirm which, if any, had caused the engine to fail.

“However, it is fact that previous Schweizer helicopter accidents have been attributed to engine stoppage so it is of grave concern that there has been another, this time fatal accident, where the cause has not been identified. 

“It is now imperative that immediate action is taken, a thorough investigation carried out and every possibility considered to determine once and for all what happened, and how it can be prevented going forward and I would urge the Schweizer Aircraft Corporation to take these measures to identify and rectify whatever the problem is.  Unfortunately, Schweizer Aircraft Corporation did not attend or provide evidence or assistance at the inquest.”

He continues: “Steven’s family remain committed to gaining answers over his death in the hope that lessons can be learnt from any failings which will prevent the same problems from happening ever again.”

Commenting on their family’s tragic loss, Steven’s devastated Parents Ray & Pam said “Steven was a fantastic, loving son, who’d do anything for anyone, and it was his childhood dream to fly.

“Although the family never had any doubt that on his last flight he’d have done everything he could to be safe and fly to the best of his ability, we’re pleased this has been confirmed today.  But we’re still desperate to know exactly what went wrong with the helicopter, and for an investigation to be carried out to give us answers, and so no other families suffer the way we have.”

The above sentiments were echoed by Steven’s Fiancée Shelley Parker, his soul mate and the love of his life.

Steven’s brother Adrian said “Steven was a fantastic brother and a superb pilot.  His tragic and untimely death is difficult to comprehend”
This inquest is just one of several high-profile cases in recent months which have put a major spotlight on the issue of helicopter safety. At the start of March, successful entrepreneur and popular Lake District figure Mark Weir was fatally injured in a crash involving his Gazelle helicopter. In addition, the inquest into the fatal helicopter crash which led to the death of Colin McRae continues.