Conflicting calls cause initial confusion for 999 services at time of Cley helicopter crash

USAF Helicopter crash at Cley. The bodies are recovered.
PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY USAF Helicopter crash at Cley. The bodies are recovered. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Thursday, January 16, 2014
10:57 AM

A more detailed picture is beginning to emerge of the difficulties and confusion faced by the emergency services as they battled to respond to first reports of the January 7 US Air Force helicopter crash.

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It is understood that any delays in the fire, police and ambulance services reaching the right site, while trying to establish facts, would not have made any difference to the tragic outcome, which saw the deaths of the four crew.

Conflicting reports from different sources, on a dark night in a remote area, meant that at one stage police headed for Little Snoring, near Fakenham, while fire engines were “stood down” in the mistaken belief that a helicopter had made an emergency landing but no-one was hurt.

On the fateful evening, police first received details, at 6.45pm, of a non-injury unscheduled helicopter landing between Blakeney and Salthouse. A few minutes later they also had reports of a helicopter crash in the Little Snoring area.

A police spokesman said units, including the police helicopter, were initially sent to both areas.

Meanwhile the fire service’s first call, at 7.04pm, from RAF Kinloss, was about an aircraft at Salthouse, with no clear information on whether it had landed safely, or crashed.

Shortly afterwards, according to a fire service spokesman, they heard from the police that a US helicopter had made an emergency landing.

“At that time Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service were told all persons were accounted for, the helicopter had landed safely, and that there was no emergency. Therefore, the two appliances which had been mobilised were stood down,” she said.

All the while police commanders were working to establish the facts and by 7.35pm they received confirmation of the crash site which they relayed to the other emergency services.

At 7.42pm two fire engines were sent to the incident site at Salthouse. The first engine, from Holt, arrived at 7.53pm.

But first on scene was the stricken aircraft’s sister USAF search and rescue helicopter, which was there “within moments” of the crash, according to the police.

The East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST) was called at 7.43pm to the incident, and the first vehicle was on scene in about 10 minutes, according to an EEAST spokesman.

The police spokesman added: “As a result of the USAF information, it very quickly became clear that the emergency services operation would be one, sadly, of recovery rather than rescue and, as a result, some of the fire and ambulance units that had mobilised were stood down.”

• Cley helicopter crash: Second aircraft flies off site. Local businesses say “We are open”

• Photo gallery: Four flickering candles - moving service for helicopter victims in Salthouse Church

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