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Royal Army Pilot Banned From Flying -- For Life

Was "Probably Under The Influence Of Alcohol" At Time Of 2002 Mishap

A British military investigation into the crash of a Gazelle helicopter off the shores of Northern Ireland three years was probably drinking-related.

The aircraft went down near Ballykelly in July, 2002. The British Army report found the pilot was "disorientated due to a lack of attention to flight instruments." Further, investigators said the pilot was distracted, fatigued and "probably under the influence of alcohol," according to the BBC, which obtained a copy of the report.

The Gazelle was found in shallow water about 500 yards from shore early on the morning of July 19th, 2002. Investigators said the pilot and a passenger -- dressed in civilian clothes -- had taken off without permission or any sort of pre-flight briefing. Both were thrown clear of the wreckage while still strapped in their seats, according to investigators. The passenger suffered serious back injuries and a broken leg. Both men swam to shore, where the pilot went to a nearby farmhouse and called for help.

The report said the unnamed pilot admitted he'd had a glass or two of wine less than four hours before the mishap. The British Army has a ten-hour bottle-to-throttle rule.

"I can confirm that a pilot was court-martialed and disciplined as a result of this incident," said a British military spokesman, quoted by the Belfast Telegraph. "The pilot concerned was permanently grounded and banned."

But that may not be the end of it. A minister of the Northern Ireland Parliament, Gregory Campbell, who'd been critical of delays in the investigation, told the Telegraph, "It is my intention to pursue this matter, as, given the conclusions and what could have happened in the Limavady/Ballykelly area if the aircraft had come down in a populated area, it is imperative that every possible step is taken to prevent any reoccurrence."



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