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Irish granny heartbroken after her family die in helicopter crash

Irish Mirror logoIrish Mirror 1/04/2017 Joshua Taylor
Two of the victims have been named locally as Kevin and Ruth Burke Two of the victims have been named locally as Kevin and Ruth Burke

An Irish granny has been left heartbroken after all three of her sons were wiped out in a devastating helicopter crash.

Kevin, Donald and Barry Burke all died when their aircraft plunged into mountains of North Wales on Wednesday night.

Kevin's wife Ruth, 49, and Donald's wife Sharon also died in the tragedy - leaving six children orphaned.

The brothers’ mother Noeleen ‘Nanny’ Burke from Kimmage, south Dublin is said to be heartbroken at the loss of her “generous and loving” three sons.

The death of her daughter-in-laws Ruth and Sharon has left six of the victims children without parents.

Kevin’s cousin Noel Collins said the family were due to attend a family party at his pub in Kilcummin, Co Mayo, on Saturday.

He said: “They would be here if things had gone right. They were on their way over.”

Killala-based Fine Gael councillor Jarlath Munnelly, a distant relative of the Burkes, said: “It’s an absolute shock. The family were regular visitors here, very proud of their heritage.

“The fact that it comes so soon after the loss of Rescue 116 helicopter adds to the shock, pain and sadness. It’s a double blow of overwhelming magnitude.”

The wealthy couple, who ran UK-based builders Staske Construction Ltd – lived in Hulcote, a village in Milton Keynes but had strong ties to Ireland.

The aircraft, owned by millionaire construction businessman Kevin, was flying from his home in England to a family christening in Dublin when it crashed .

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The tragedy has left the three brothers' mum, widower Noeleen Burke, devastated.

Mrs Burke, aged in her 80s, lost her husband Donal three years ago.

Kevin and Ruth leave behind two teenage children, while Donald and Sharon are survived by a son and twin daughters. Barry leaves behind a partner and a son.

A relative told the Irish Herald : "We were all a very close family. We're absolutely devastated. They were coming to Dublin for a family confirmation.

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"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.

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

Ruth was from Dublin and her husband and his brothers were the sons of an Irish couple - Donal and Noeleen - who emigrated to Britain.

Kevin’s father Donal was from Kilcummin in Lacken, Co Mayo, and the family still have a holiday home there.

Noel, who runs Bessie’s Bar in Kilcummin, said the Burke brothers would often visit Co Mayo after their parents moved to the UK - often travelling in Kevin’s helicopter.

He added: “Kevin would go out farming with me as a lad, making turf, saving hay.

“In later years, like the others, he would help out in the bar.

“There was no one (around here) friendlier with the lads than me.”

It is believed pilot Kevin was trying to avoid a bad weather patch in his Twin Squirrel helicopter when the tragedy occurred.

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Ruth and Kevin had two children, Jess, 19, and 14-year-old Jamie.

Kevin’s father Donal emigrated to England many decades ago. His mother Noeleen is in her eighties and lives in England - she was widowed when Donal died three years ago, and has one remaining daughter.

Donal’s ashes were repatriated by his family and scattered in Kilcummin, the area where he spent his childhood.

The Burke family also have an uncle called Michael who lives in nearby Heathfield, Ballycastle.

Friends of the family took to social media today to express their loss.

Terry Green, who worked for the couple for six months, said: “My sympathy goes out to the family of Kevin and Ruth Burke. Tragic event for all the family and friends.

“I worked for the couple, and they were lovely kind and thoughtful people. Devastating.”

While in the UK residents of the couple’s hometown have described their shock at hearing the tragic news.

A neighbour Elizabeth Thornley, 24, said: “One of the neighbours said, ‘Have you heard about the crash, the helicopter crash?’ I thought it had crashed into a horse’s paddock, but they said ‘no, Kevin’s had crashed’.”

One Hulcote resident, who did not give his name, said Mr Burke was originally from Manchester and was a pilot.

While another, Richard Mann, called Kevin “a very astute businessman, outgoing, hail-fellow-well-met, always seemed very cheery.”

It is believed the helicopter was due to land in Weston Airport on the border between Dublin and Kildare, Ireland, after refuelling in Wales.

But is vanished off the radar, sparking a major search and rescue operation before the tragic discovery was made.

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Model and reality TV star Danielle Lloyd has paid tribute to Ruth and Kevin, who were friends of hers.

She shared an image of them online and described them as "two of the nicest people I’ve ever had the privilege to meet".

She told her 400,000 Instagram followers: “Such sad news about Ruth and Kevin Burke.

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“They were two of the nicest people I’ve ever had the privilege to meet and my thoughts and prayers are with all the family.”

Chief Inspector Richie Green, from North Wales Police, said: “The location of the crash site is both remote and treacherous.

"Access is only possible on foot, the site being approximately 4km or two hours' walk over very challenging terrain from the last discernible road - and access to this road is only possible with a 4x4 vehicle.

"The site itself, and access to it, is precarious, on a steep slope and covered in heather, lichen and moss which, after the recent heavy rain, is making just standing upright difficult.

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"At over 700m above sea level, just getting to the site involves a degree of scrambling.

"Weather is unfortunately worsening making the task of getting both personnel and their equipment there alone very difficult and potentially dangerous.”

He continued: “That said, both police and mountain rescue teams are utterly determined and focused in recovering all those lost as quickly and as sensitively as possible so they can be reunited with their families.

"This process, even in perfect conditions, is still delicate and methodical as we search for any evidence that could help explain the cause of the crash.

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"Over 80 personnel from local and RAF mountain rescue teams, Air Accidents Investigation Branch investigators, HM Coastguard and police are involved and at this time the safe, sensitive and prompt recovery of all those lost is our priority.”

Phil Benbow, chairman of the North Wales Mountain Rescue Association, added: “Trained, experienced mountain rescue personnel are finding the terrain difficult and challenging.

"There are no footpaths and the ground underfoot is treacherous in places even for the most experienced, however, we are all unwavering in our determination to assist reunite the families with those who lost their lives.”

An investigation led by the Air Accident Investigation Branch is underway to establish the cause of the tragedy and an exclusion zone around the crash site is in place.

Anyone with information is asked to call North Wales Police on 101.

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