Craft from US base at RAF Lakenheath goes down on low-level mission, scattering live ammunition over marshes
Police investigating a US helicopter crash on the Norfolk coast that killed four crew members and scattered live ammunition over a nature reserve said the incident occurred during an training exercise involving a second US helicopter.
Chief Superintendent Bob Scully, from Norfolk police, said the aircraft were HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters. Speaking at a press conference at the scene, in the village of Cley-next-the-Sea, he said the second helicopter was not thought to have caused the crash.
But he added it was too early to speculate. “The two aircraft were involved in some training activity,” Scully said.
“The most immediate aircraft to provide assistance was the other aircraft. It will be a matter for the [air] investigation to establish whether there was any causal link. My understanding was apparently not but we don’t know. We should allow them to carry out the full investigation.”
The crashed aircraft had flown from the US airbase at RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk.
Norfolk police would hand over responsibility for the crash site to US and UK military air investigators after the coroner had examined the bodies of the four unnamed crew members, Scully said.
The crash site, about the size of a football pitch, was on “difficult terrain in the marsh”, was scattered with live ammunition and would remain cordoned off for at least another day, he added.
The main A149 road between Cromer and Hunstanton, which runs alongside the crash site, has been closed.
Scully said: “The crashed aircraft did contain ammunition. That ammunition is not of any great significance – it is bullets, if you will – but those are scattered about the site, so the site is hazardous to members of the public. So we will be working with the military to ensure public safety by restricting access to that area.
“The debris is not on the beach but there are some bits of debris that are vulnerable to high tide. The majority of the debris is on the marsh.
He added that the investigation by the US and UK military was likely to take a considerable time.
A statement from the 48th Fighter Wing of RAF Lakenheath said: “US military officials are co-ordinating the recovery efforts with the UK police and the Ministry of Defence.
“The aircraft, assigned to the 48th Fighter Wing, was performing a low-level training mission along the coast when the crash occurred.”
A spokesman added that the RAF understood the crash had happened at 6pm on Tuesday.
Residents spoke of hearing a “heavy and very unusual” sound overhead as the helicopter, which specialises in recovering troops from war zones, plummeted into marshland at the Norfolk Wildlife Trust Cley Marshes nature reserve.
Details of the four crew members would not be released until next of kin had been informed, police said, adding that no one in the surrounding area had been injured.
Bernard Bishop, a Norfolk Wildife Trust warden based at Cley, said his house overlooked the crash site and he had never seen anything like it.
“I heard the helicopter flying overhead and watched from my back garden,” he said.
“It was very quickly obvious something serious was wrong. The search-and-rescue crews quickly arrived and it was my job to escort them over the marsh.
“The conditions are very difficult because the marsh has flooded twice in recent weeks, so that’s hampering their efforts to recover the bodies and make the helicopter safe.
“There’s only one track in and out of the crash site, which is also restricting their movements. It’s just awful. I’ve never known anything like and never seen so many people here at one time.”
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