Duchess of Cornwall's helicopter narrowly escapes head-on crash in skies over Fens
The Duchess of Cornwall had a near miss in the skies over Fenland while flying in a helicopter from the Queen's Sandringham estate.
Camilla was in a Sikorsky S76 chopper from the Queen's Flight on her way from attending the Sandringham Flower Show to her home in Gloucestershire, when she came within seconds of a head-on crash with a plane carrying parachutists from the North London Skydiving Centre at Wimblington.
A report by the UK Airprox Board, whose primary objective is to enhance air safety in the UK, in particular in respect of lessons to be learned and applied from aircraft near misses, highlighted how close the Duchess' helicopter came to the de Havilland Canada DHC-6.
The chopper came within 200ft of the de Havilland aircraft, which had just taken off from the airfield at Block Fen, as it flew along its prearranged flight plan south of Wisbech at around 12.20pm last July 25.
According to the board's report the air traffic controller at RAF Marham, who was following the helicopter's progress, "perceived the severity of the incident as high" while its pilot rated it as 'medium' and the parachute plane's pilot put the risk at 'low'.
The report describes how the RAF Marham air controller had spotted the de Havilland was airborne six minutes after Camilla's helicopter took off from the home of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and that it was headed northeast toward the Sikorsky S76.
Aircraft carrying members of the Royal family are given protected low level corridors and pilots of civil aircraft operating near the published route are warned keep a good lookout and maintain adequate separation from the Royal helicopter.
The de Havilland's pilot should have notified air traffic control at RAF Lakenheath as he took off, but the Marham supervisor reported there was no indication of him doing so.
She called Lakenheath to ask if they were speaking to the DHC6 pilot and if they were aware of the NOTAM (the royal flight path notice).
Lakenheath made 'numerous' attempts to contact the plane's pilot but had failed to raise him. A minute later, the royal flight was warned of the DHC6 and adjusted his altitude to 5,400 feet, but the other flight was also climbing and didn’t turn away to avoid a collision. The royal pilot veered right as the alarm sounded in the cockpit, and at the same time, the DHC6 noticed the helicopter and also veered right.
From the controller’s perspective the radar returns appeared to briefly merge and the Mode C indicated the aircraft were within 200ft of each other. At this point the S76 pilot advised that he was visual with the DHC6.
Afterwards the pilot noted it was his eighth flight of the day, that he had been distracted by unrelated domestic concerns and that he had forgotten to establish contact with Lakenheath.
Later in the same flight, the Royal helicopter had to take evasive action to avoid a glider as it neared the Duchess's home at Highgrove House.