herald

Wednesday 23 January 2019

All three of Dublin mum's 'generous, loving' sons killed in helicopter crash

Ruth and Kevin Burke
Ruth and Kevin Burke

A Dublin grandmother has been left devastated after all three of her sons were killed in a helicopter crash.

Noeleen Burke, aged in her 80s, from Kimmage, south Dublin, lost Kevin, Donald and Barry Burke when their helicopter went down en route from Luton to Dublin on Wednesday.

All three men were born in Britain to Ms Burke and her husband Donal, who was from Co Mayo. They were returning to Ireland for a family confirmation when tragedy struck.

Donal was a member of the De Burca family, from the Kilcummin area on the north Mayo coast. He died three years ago.

Kevin, aged in his mid-50s, was the eldest of the three brothers and was flying the helicopter when it went down.

They had one sister, who was not in the helicopter when the tragedy struck.

Kevin's wife Ruth (49) and Donald's wife Sharon also died in the tragedy.

"We were all a very close family. We're absolutely devastated. They were coming to Dublin for a family confirmation." an Irish-based relative told the Herald last night.

Risks

"Kevin was a very experienced pilot. He never took chances. He was an excellent pilot and he had a lot of flight hours and he never took risks."

The relative said the family had messaged her on Wednesday morning.

Emergency services head to the crash site in north Wales. Photo: PA
Emergency services head to the crash site in north Wales. Photo: PA

"They only decided to come when they checked the weather, which was supposedly okay, but it doesn't look like it was," she said.

"We were all looking forward to seeing them. We're all devastated. They were lovely people and they were very family orientated. We were all very close. Kevin was generous and loving. They were all generous and loving people."

She said the adult children regularly returned to Dublin and Mayo for visits.

"The Burkes all have places in Mayo and the family would all congregate in Mayo every year," she said.

The Irish parents lived in Scotland before moving to England, where Donal worked as a lecturer. The family of four children were brought up in Bletchley, near Milton Keyes.

Kevin and Ruth have been survived by their two teenage children, while Donald and Sharon are survived by their son and twin daughters.

Barry is survived by his partner and one son.

The five occupants of the aircraft were killed instantly when the private helicopter they were using to fly from Luton, north of London, to Dublin's Weston Airport crashed in the Rhinog mountains in the Snowdonia National Park in north Wales.

"Six children have lost their parents in this tragedy," said a family spokesman.

Tragedy

It is believed Kevin, who was flying his construction company's helicopter - an Airbus/EuroCopter Twin Squirrel - was attempting to descend to avoid inclement weather when the tragedy occurred. Kevin and his wife ran the successful Milton Keynes-based construction firm Staske Ltd.

A vastly experienced pilot, he used the firm's helicopter to commute between the various development projects his firm undertook around the UK.

All five bodies were found shortly before lunch yesterday, when the UK Coastguard and North Wales Police switched the focus of their search from Caernarfon Bay to the Snowdonia mountains. The police used mobile phone triangulation data to focus their search effort on a remote mountainous area.

Seven mountain rescue teams, as well as specialist dog search teams, examined the Rhinog area before the wreckage was found. All five bodies were located by or within the wreckage. Weather conditions were so bad that search teams operated with visibility of less than 10 metres. The crash site has been preserved pending a full investigation into the tragedy by the UK Air Accident Investigation Branch.

No mayday was received from the twin-engined helicopter, which vanished off radar and from radio contact shortly after 4pm on Wednesday.

The Twin Squirrel is one of the most popular light helicopters in private use.

Location

Superintendent Gareth Evans, of North Wales Police, said the exact location of the crash was not being revealed.

This was "to allow a dignified and unhindered recovery of the bodies in what is described as very difficult and challenging terrain".

Elizabeth Thornley (24), who lives near the Burkes' UK home, said they had not lived at the property long and had been "doing up the house for about a year-and-a-half".

The removal of the bodies was suspended last night due to bad weather.

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