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19 July 2011, 10:19
An angry gamekeeper could have killed two Army helicopter pilots when he drove his Land Rover straight at the low flying aircraft, a court has heard.
The pilot of the Army Air Corps squirrel helicopter, who'd taken off from a Hampshire airbase, avoided disaster by just seconds when he saw Malcolm Hughes's Land Rover coming straight towards him.
Lt Andrew Higgins was flying just 10 feet above a field as he prepared to carry out a manoeuvre with trainee pilot Bombardier Henry Luck when he spotted Hughes, 61.
Prosecutor Justin Gau told jurors at Salisbury Crown Court: "They saw the defendant's Land Rover driving underneath the helicopter itself.
"It remained there and then drove off a few yards and the defendant was seen gesticulating angrily and making signs that the vehicle should depart.
"It was clear and quite intentional the Land Rover had been driven at the helicopter.''
Mr Gau added: "Had it not been spotted it is quite clear that the rotor of the helicopter would have been hit by the car and a fatal crash would have occurred.''
Jurors were told that Lt Higgins was teaching Bmdr Luck low-flying manoeuvres over farmland at Wootton Rivers, near Pewsey, Wiltshire, on the afternoon of December 9, 2009.
The helicopter had taken off from the Middle Wallop airbase in Hampshire and flown towards Pewsey, on a route used by the Army Air Corps every three months.
Mr Gau explained that Lt Higgins would have approached the field - which was clear of animals and crops - at below 100ft.
The helicopter would then drop to around 20ft and carrying out the last safety checks before dropping to just 5ft.
"Lt Higgins was over a field, which he knew was safe because it was at least 50 metres from any obstacles,'' the prosecutor said.
"There was no one about. He was due to demonstrate to the trainee pilot a manoeuvre which of itself could be quite dangerous but in terms of training could be quite important.''
It was as they descended to 5ft that Hughes came straight towards them and they took evasive action to avoid the Land Rover.
After being arrested, Hughes told police that he had never driven under the helicopter and the closest he had been was 300 metres away.
He said that he had driven towards the helicopter because he wanted to get close enough to take the aircraft's serial number and report it to the authorities for low flying - just as his employer had told him to do.
"He maintained he was never more than 300 metres from the helicopter and had driven across on a path up to where the helicopter was so that he could take down the details of the helicopter,'' Mr Gau said.
"What we say he was doing was one step further than taking their details - he was telling them to get off his land.''
Addressing jurors, Mr Gau added: "You have to assess yourselves, bearing in mind it was only a few feet away, whether in your view he was endangering both himself and more importantly that aircraft and the pilots on board it.''
Hughes, of Raffin Lane, Pewsey, Wiltshire, denies a single charge of acting in a manner likely to endanger aircraft.