A WEALTHY Brighouse businessman who died with his wife when the helicopter he was flying somersaulted and plunged to the ground was an “unqualified and inexperienced” pilot, an inquest jury has concluded.
Paul Spencer, 43, and his wife Linda, 59 – who was the only passenger – were killed when they crashed in Rudding Park luxury resort in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, in January 2008.
Serious flaws later emerged in Mr Spencer’s training, which was not sufficient to grant him a licence, a four-day inquest heard.
Mr Spencer had picked up his new Gazelle aircraft from Essex on the day he died and had flown back to the park where the couple owned a lodge, North Yorkshire Coroner Rob Turnbull said.
The millionaire entrepreneur, who had held his helicopter licence for just six weeks, took Mrs Spencer on a flight over nearby Knaresborough but lost control as they returned to the resort.
Witnesses told the inquest at the Cedar Court Hotel in Harrogate how they watched the low-flying chopper pitch and tilt on to its end before plunging below the treeline.
A post-mortem examination revealed that the couple died from multiple injuries.
The inquest heard how there were high gusts of wind on the afternoon of the crash.
Air accident investigators later highlighted “several areas of concern”, Mr Turnbull told the jury.
The fact Mr Spencer got his licence after just 10 days of training was “not impossible” but “highly unusual”, according to investigators.
Mr Turnbull said at the beginning of the inquest: “The conclusion of the experts in this case is that the cause of the crash is adverse weather conditions and the fact that the pilot had not received sufficient training to qualify for his licence.”
The Civil Aviation Authority found that “the majority of flights” recorded as proof of training “did not occur”, the jury heard.
Today, the jury of six women and three men returned narrative verdicts.
In the case of Mr Spencer, they said: “Paul Spencer, an unqualified and inexperienced helicopter pilot, died on January 26, 2008, whilst piloting a Gazelle helicopter which crashed in adverse weather conditions.”
In the case of Mrs Spencer, they said: “Linda Mary Spencer died on January 26, 2008, when she was a passenger in a Gazelle helicopter which crashed in adverse weather conditions whilst being flown by an unqualified and inexperienced helicopter pilot.”
Earlier this year, flying instructor Ian King, 53, was jailed for six months for lying to get Mr Spencer a pilot’s licence.
The former army captain falsely signed off the businessman’s incomplete training records weeks before the tragedy.
While it was impossible to say whether King’s actions caused the crash, he showed “complete and utter disregard” for the rules and deliberately deceived authorities, a judge at Leeds Crown Court said in February.
King, of Clifford, near Wetherby, denied making a false representation with intent to deceive the Civil Aviation Authority but was found guilty by a jury after a week-long trial.
Following yesterday’s inquest, members of Mr and Mrs Spencer’s family said they did not wish to comment.