Vintage helicopter passenger tells of crash at Yorkshire airfield which killed his friend

Les Clark, pictured after the vintage helicopter crash
Les Clark, pictured after the vintage helicopter crash

The front seat passenger in a vintage helicopter which crashed at a Yorkshire airfield has described hearing a “loud crack” before the aircraft fell to earth.

Les Clark suffered serious chest and spinal injuries when a former military Alouette aircraft crashed at Breighton Aerodrome, near Selby, last July, in an accident which claimed his friend’s life.

The scene of the helicopter crash at Breighton Aerodrome

The scene of the helicopter crash at Breighton Aerodrome

After being airlifted to hospital by Yorkshire Air Ambulance, he has helped raise more than £16,000 for what he describes as a “fantastic” charity.

The accident features in next Monday’s episode of Helicopter ER, a series on UKTV which follows the life-saving work of the air ambulance service.

Mr Clark, 60, from Wheldrake, near York, was a front seat passenger in the helicopter which was carrying four passengers when it crashed at a vintage aircraft weekend run by the Real Airplane Company.

The vintage aircraft enthusiast, himself an experienced pilot, said the decision to take the ten-minute flight was a last minute one near the end of the day.

“It was just an unfortunate combination of small things which, singularly, would not be a problem. But, when they come together – like the holes in a Swiss cheese lining up – you have a problem.

“I just remember there was a loud crack and one second I was looking at the sun and the next at shadows with the ground coming up really quickly.”

In a report this year, the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) said the aircraft exceeded its weight limit by nearly 15kg.

Mr Clark and the helicopter pilot Nigel Feetham were both airlifted to hospital by Yorkshire Air Ambulance. The passenger was treated at Hull Royal Infirmary for injuries including a fractured sternum and three fractured vertebrae.

Mr Feetham, from Hedon, East Yorkshire, suffered similar injuries and was taken to Leeds General Infirmary, where he seemed to be making a good recovery but died eight days later.

Mr Clark had to wear a spinal brace for three months and endured a painful recovery but is back flying the vintage aircraft he loves.

Breighton Aerodrome, a former Second World War heavy bomber base and cold-war nuclear missile launch site, is home to the classic aircraft collection of the Real Aeroplane Company and the Real Aeroplane Club, an active flying club whose members own and operate unusual, classic and ex-military aircraft.

Mr Clark, and other members of the club, as well as family and friends of Mr Feetham, have so far raised more than £16,000 for Yorkshire Air Ambulance to thank the rapid response emergency service.

The former car body repair shop owner added: “The air ambulance is just a fantastic charity. You never know when you, a friend or family member might need them but when you do they are just brilliant.

“As they are not Government funded it’s really important that people support Yorkshire Air Ambulance. I cannot speak highly enough about the pilots, paramedics and doctors and what they do every day.”