A DIAMOND mining troubleshooter from York died in a helicopter crash in Africa when the pilot flew into the ground while trying to fly through a thunderstorm in the dark, an inquest heard.

Guy Summerfield, from Osbaldwick Lane, Kevin Ayre, from Leigh in Greater Manchester, and two other passengers were killed instantly along with their South African pilot who had become "disorientated".

The two-helicopter team was returning from checking the site of a fatal road accident involving a truck delivering drilling supplies to a site in Angola four days earlier in November 2007, an inquest heard this week.

Mr Ayre, 50, and Mr Summerfield, 36, were operations managers in a joint venture organisation.
Their flight home was initially delayed by heavy rain but it was then decided to take off despite a warning a storm was on the way, the hearing at New Earswick Folk Hall on Tuesday was told.

Both Eurocopter Squirrel machines were forced to land 30 minutes after sundown because of the bad weather, it was said.

The aircraft had been in operation in Angola for four days. The airframes were one and a half years old - relatively new, the hearing was told.

But both pilot were trained for night flying and the weather started to clear. So a decision was made to press on to the team's base camp. But shortly after take off, all contact was lost with the doomed Eurocopter.

The surviving one returned to an agreed emergency rendezvous point to wait for the missing helicopter to reappear, but the wreckage was found in a nearby clearing along with the bodies of all on board.

Also killed were Australian David Hopgood, Chief Operating Officer for the mining company, the South African pilot Kottie Breedt and Namibian drilling expert Louwrens Prinsloo.

An investigation by the Angolan authorities revealed the cause of the crash was "pilot spatial disorientation".

This was due to "bad weather, night flying and unfamiliar terrain"according to York Coroner Donald Coverdale.

He said the 112-page file on the crash told "a story of tragedy in Angola".

Recording verdicts of accidental deaths from multiple injuries on both victims, he added: "In all the circumstances, what has happened here was just a tragic accident. Attempts to get any further information have proved fruitless."

The hearing was told the diamond hunt in Angola - which was called off following the tragedy - involved a number of firms working for mining giant BHP Billiton.

Mr Coverdale said the investigation of deaths abroad was always difficult for a coroner. He said he would ideally have liked a report on the state of the helicopter but he could not compel its production.

Widow Elaine Ayre said her husband was a fit and healthy man who had worked all over Africa for 20 years.

Mr Summerfield's widow Rachel had flown to South Africa to collect her husband's remains but had not responded to attempts by the coroner to contact her about the inquest.