Colin McRae's manoeuvres unsafe and unnecessary, court hears

Former world rally champion Colin McRae performed a series of unsafe and unnecessary manoeuvres before crashing his helicopter, killing himself and three other people, a court has heard.

Dramatic footage from the last moments of the flight were shown at Lanark Sheriff Court yesterday, including images of Mr McRae's passengers laughing and shouting as he piloted.

The court sat in silence as the film, which was taken by Mr McRae's friend Graeme Duncan, was shown in public for the first time. It showed Mr McRae's son Johnny and his friend Ben Porcelli laughing and screaming inside the Eurocopter Squirrel aircraft. Ben's parents Mark and Karen sat sombrely for the duration of the film.

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Ken Fairbank, an air accident investigator, said Mr McRae's flying concerned him. He said Mr McRae's manoeuvres included a zoom-climb, where the aircraft soars into the air at high speed.

Under questioning from depute fiscal Kate Meikle, he said: "That is not a normal manoeuvre and it has increased risk. It is not the recognised way a person is taught to take off and there is no real benefit to it.

"The aircraft travelled at a considerable forward speed and was at an extremely low height before it pitched forward into a valley near Larkhall.

"My concerns were that if a failure occurred, there was no margin for error at all. It would not have been possible to find an area to land."

Asked why he thought Mr McRae had performed the manoeuvres, which also included a number of steep turns, he said: "There was no ready explanation for this. The feeling I got was that it was for the benefit of the adult passenger and the children in the rear. The passengers clearly enjoyed the manoeuvres, and laughter and shouts could be heard."

Mr Fairbank added: "It was indicative of an aircraft being flown without regard to the principles of good airmanship and in such a way that the safety margins would be reduced."

He also said Mr McRae would have been in breach of civil aviation laws during the flight due to the low heights he was flying at.

The court was told the video cut out 55 seconds before the crash and that the clip was later retrieved from the wreckage.

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The five-minute clip began with the helicopter taking off from Mr McRae's home in Lanark and flying to a nearby farm in Larkhall. Mr McRae could be heard asking his passengers "Are you ready to rock and roll?" before he waved at the camera and gave a thumbs-up.

The camera then panned to the two children who were sat in the back of the aircraft, waving and smiling.

The film then showed Mr McRae making a sharp turn before landing at the Larkhall farm.The court heard Mr Duncan say: "Oh yes, I could feel the G-force there."

Mr McRae was then shown repairing a car at his friend's garage before embarking on the fatal return journey home.

The crash claimed the lives of Mr McRae, his son Johnny, five, and family friends Ben, six, and Mr Duncan, 37.

The helicopter came down in a wooded valley near Mr McRae's Jerviswood home just outside Lanark in September 2007.

The fatal accident inquiry before Sheriff Nikola Stewart continues.