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02Aug91 UK: JCB CHAIRMAN GIVES EVIDENCE IN CUSTOMERS' HELICOPTER DEATH-CRASH CASE.

By Grant Prior.The chairman of plant manufacturer JCB was summoned to court last week where a company helicopter pilot was jailed for 18 months, following a crash which killed two businessmen.Sir Anthony Bamford was called to Stafford Crown Court to answer claims that his former pilot, John Wright, had been instructed to fly low to give customers a 'thrill'.Ex-army pilot Mr Wright, 41, from Lanarkshire, was found guilty of the unlawful killing of Christopher Durrant, 41, and Richard Smith, 37, who worked for Durrant Groundworks.Both men died when the helicopter crashed into a 10 m high power cable near JCB's factory at Rocester, Staffordshire.At the hearing, Mr Wright alleged the firm's chief helicopter pilot, the late Chalkie White, told him to fly low over JCB-owned land.The court heard from passengers and people living in the area that they had witnessed the practice.But Sir Anthony said he had no knowledge of low flying before the crash and that an immediate private investigation had been launched.Sir Anthony said: 'Immediately we found out about the practice it was stopped.' He said pilots and customers had been interviewed and pilots severely reprimanded.Trial judge Mr Justice Turner said he was satisfied Mr Wright was not the originator of low flying, but he had disregarded the dangers which he knew existed.Mr Patrick Phillips QC, defending, said his client had overstated his skills and underestimated the risk. 'He is very distraught and contrite.'After the hearing John Durrant, 34, who survived the crash said he was 'gutted'.He said the civil engineering business he ran with his brother had collapsed and he still had nightmares about the flight.The family's solicitors are now considering civil action against the excavator firm.After the hearing a JCB spokesman said: 'The company again extends its sympathies to the bereaved and injured.'