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Helicopter ‘did not sound right’: Salthouse couple tell of moments before crash at Cley

PUBLISHED: 12:33 08 January 2014 | UPDATED: 12:56 08 January 2014

Cley helicopter crash eyewitnesses Sue and Peter McKnespiey.

Cley helicopter crash eyewitnesses Sue and Peter McKnespiey.


The owners of a prominent north Norfolk business told today how a helicopter “did not sound right” as it flew over their home in the minutes before a crash claimed the lives of four US airmen.

Cley helicopter crash eyewitnesses Claire and Peter Bradley.Cley helicopter crash eyewitnesses Claire and Peter Bradley.

Peter and Sue McKnespiey are the owners of Cookies Crab Shop on Salthouse green, and heard a “very low and noisy” helicopter flying over last evening.

Mrs McKnespiey said the aircraft did not sound right and was louder than usual helicopter flights across the village. She added that the helicopter engine sounded heavy and made the house at the back of the shop vibrate.

Mr McKnespiey said: “It is a terrible with the loss of life. The helicopter came over the back of the house. It was very low and noisy and the lights were very bright. They lit the house up.

“They then disappeared and the next thing we heard was the sirens.”

SUVs arrive at the helicopter crash site. Picture: Sarah WhittleySUVs arrive at the helicopter crash site. Picture: Sarah Whittley

Peter and Claire Bradley from Harrogate, West Yorkshire, said the low-flying helicopter made their holiday cottage shake.

They arrived in north Norfolk yesterday afternoon with their four-year-old terrier Bertie.

Mr Bradley, 41, said: “I was relaxed and ready for tea and was getting ready for the football but at about 6.50pm I heard a loud noise. Bertie was going mad barking and I presumed it was a helicopter on a military exercise. It wasn’t until we saw the news we saw the extent of the damage.

“It is very sad especially as the crew are still inside the helicopter.”

Police and fire services at the Dun Cow at Salthouse for the Cley marshes helicopter crash incident. Picture: Denise BradleyPolice and fire services at the Dun Cow at Salthouse for the Cley marshes helicopter crash incident. Picture: Denise Bradley

Bernard Bishop, warden for the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, lives about half a mile from the crash site.

He first saw the low-flying helicopter at about 6.45pm last night when he was in his garden with his wife.

“I took it for granted because there has always been low-flying aircraft in the area but all of a sudden emergency services turned up. I went to the Cley visitors centre and took the emergency service workers in my Land Rover. I got to about 400 metres from the site but was turned away.”

He did not hear any bangs or see any explosions following the crash.

Sue and Peter McKnespiey of Cookies Crab Shop at Salthouse near the helicopter crash site. Picture: Denise BradleySue and Peter McKnespiey of Cookies Crab Shop at Salthouse near the helicopter crash site. Picture: Denise Bradley

Mr Bishop added the only access to the crash site was by Cley beach.

“The reaction from the village is shock. At first we thought the helicopter had ditched and them we heard of the loss of life. We were distraught. I cannot believe this has happened here at Cley.”

Another resident who did not want to named said this morning she heard the helicopter noises last night but thought nothing of it as it was a regular occurrence and was not unusual.

For others, it was the sirens and cordons that alerted them to the crash, and soon information started passing by word of mouth.

Historic aircraft crashes

Ten people died and more than 30 were injured when a police helicopter crashed into the Clutha bar in Glasgow city centre November 29, 2013.

Three crew and seven people in the pub were killed.

Four people were killed in August 2013 when a Super Puma L2 helicopter crashed two miles west of Sumburgh Airport, off Shetland. The aircraft suffered a catastrophic loss of power and dropped into the sea. Fourteen people survived the crash.

On January 16, 2013, a helicopter crashed in Vauxhall, London, during the rush hour. Two people died and 13 were injured after the aircraft, which was travelling from Redhill to Elstree, crashed into a crane and two cars.

In February 2012, a £46 million Apache helicopter with two British Army pilots on board crashed into a 132,000-volt power line near Ipswich in Suffolk during a night-flying exercise. Neither of the crew members, from Wattisham airfield, were injured when the aircraft came down.

Two people died after a helicopter crashed near Blackpool on September 22, 2009. A mayday signal was sent from the aircraft as it flew over Poulton-le-Fylde at 12.10pm, and at 12.50pm the wreckage was found at Barnaby Sands.

A helicopter suffered a catastrophic failure when it plunged into the sea off the Aberdeenshire coast on April 1, 2009. Nolan Goble, 34, from Wells, was one of 14 oil workers from KCA Deutag Drilling Ltd who died while returning from a BP oil platform in the Miller oilfield for two weeks’ leave. Two crew members were also killed.

Six people, including two pilots, were killed after a helicopter crashed off Morecambe Bay in Lancashire in December 2006. The aircraft ditched into the sea 500 metres short of the gas rig where it was about to land.

At 6pm on June 2, 1994, a Royal Air Force Chinook helicopter plunged into the Mull of Kintyre, Scotland, killing 29 people on board. Twenty five passengers and four crew on board died, including almost all the United Kingdom’s senior Northern Ireland intelligence experts. Flt Lt Jonathan Tapper, from Burnham Thorpe, was one of the pilots.

On May 2, 1990, the peace in Binham, near Wells, was shattered when an American F1-11 fighter plane nose-dived in a spectacular fireball just 300m from the village’s medieval priory. Nobody was injured and a handful of homes received minor damage.

Speaking as the situation was still unfolding, Cley artist Rachel Lockwood, from the village’s Pinkfoot Gallery, said: “We had never seen so many police cars and fire engines so went to have a look.

“The beach road to Cley is sealed off. There are lots of fire engines near the Dun Cow pub at Salthouse. A helicopter is hovering over the marsh with a light beaming down.

“Someone said it was a helicopter down, and a coastguard told us to clear the area, saying something about ammunition.”

Sarah Whittley, the joint owner of the Pinkfoot Gallery at Cley, was on her way back from the Anchor at Morston, when about 13 police cars sped past her. They went down the road before it was cordoned off.

She said: “As soon as we got just outside a neighbour’s house they [emergency personnel] rushed up to us and said ‘Quick, you need to get away there’s live ammunition’.”

She said she could see officials marking out a square crash site near Cley Marshes.

One person at The George Hotel in Cley, who asked not to be named, talked about a coastguard running down the road warning people to stay inside because of the danger from live ammunition on the helicopter.

She said he warned people not to go outside unless they needed to, and told people to keep away from the beach area.

She said the initial information circulating in the village was that an Apache helicopter had landed on the beach, and was loaded with ammunition.

She said: “We did not know what was going on until we saw the coastguard running down the road, warning people in the restaurant. They warned us that there might be a loud bang later on with the explosives.”

She added that guests at the hotel were anxious, but staff reassured them that such events did not usually happen in Cley.

Local parish councillors were gathering for their monthly meeting when the helicopter came down, but said the first they heard about it was shortly after the meeting finished at 9pm.

Chairman Richard Kelham said: “I walked down to towards the beach but they cordoned off the area. The helicopter seems to have come down on the East Bank quite close to the beach. There was a green light flashing inland and a red light flashing out to sea. A neighbour said he heard it come over very low but he didn’t see it crash.

“A convoy of 4x4 vehicles from RAF Lakenheath then arrived.”

Did you see anything? Contact the newsdesk on 01603 772478 or email

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