The BBC has been accused of endangering public safety, after a news helicopter appeared to fly dangerously close to both the ground and railway in the Cambridgeshire countryside.
A Freedom of Information request by A. Willmore, a member of the WhatDoTheyKnow.com website, sought further information from the BBC about the incident, which took place on 25th February 2016.
Sir Nigel Gresley's iconic steam locomotive, the Flying Scotsman, was making its inaugral journey from London to the National Railway Museum in York, following a recent decade-long refit.
Footage obtained by March Steam Videos, a still of which is published above, clearly shows the moment the BBC News helicopter came dangerously close to the locomotive as it hammered through the Cambridgeshire countryside at more than 80 mph.
The area in question, just north of the village of Offord Cluny, is dominated by very flat, low-lying pasture alongside the River Great Ouse.
Even at the most conservative estimate, the helicopter is flying at about the level of the overhead line equipment, which is usually about 4.6 metres (about 16 feet) above rail height. Taking the embankment into consideration, it is unlikely the helicopter was more than about 50 feet above ground level. Such low level flying would undoubtledly cause distress to livestock in the fields below and seriously distract nearby motorists.
Additional lineside footage of the incident was captured by YouTube user J Wood. If anything, it reinforces the suggestion that the helicopter - shown centre right in the still image above - was flying even lower than 50 feet above ground level. Remember that the railway embankment, which is the only upwards projection on otherwise flat ground, can be no more than about 20 feet tall.
The same helicopter, an Aerospatiale Ecureuil 2 with the registration mark G-TAKE, is shown in the image below.
A. Willmore has queried the circumstances surrounding this apparent act of poor airmanship with both the BBC and Civil Aviation Authority. The CAA is yet to respond, but the BBC, in a characteristic display of nonchalance, has denied any wrongdoing on the part of the helicopter crew.
Replying to A. Willmore's query, a BBC spokesperson said: "On the YouTube video the helicopter looks very close to the train and part of the reason for this is the amount of zoom being used by the camera which appears to bring focussed (sic) subjects closer together, the distance to the side of the train is within the limits of their flight authorisation as they hold the relevant permissions from the Civil Aviation Authority.
"The footage from the helicopter for this portion of the flight shows that there is considerable distance between the train and the helicopter and I understand the CAA have also been shown the footage which demonstrates this.
"To carry out filming of this nature a number of things need to be adhered to and put in place beforehand including notifying the train operator who in turn notifies drivers on the route in addition to notifying the relevant Police Authorities along the route. I can confirm that both of these requirements were met beforehand and are documented."
We look forward to hearing the CAA's perspective on this incident, which will hopefully be a bit more analytical than the BBC's.
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