Air accident investigators have arrived at the scene of a helicopter crash that killed three people who were flying from the North to England, police confirmed tonight.
A major recovery effort was in operation throughout the day at a remote site in the Mourne mountains in Co Down where the wreckage was located.
The Agusta helicopter was travelling from St Angelo airport in Co Fermanagh where the passengers had been on a hunting trip, but their aircraft crashed at around 4pm yesterday at the mountainous Leitrim Lodge Picnic area near Hilltown.
Mountain rescue teams, the coastguard and other emergency services were alerted when a member of the public reported seeing an aircraft in distress, but it quickly became clear that no one had survived the impact.
After a lengthy recovery operation police have now confirmed that the pilot and his two passengers were killed.
South Down MP Margaret Ritchie said: “The local community is in absolute shock, but their thoughts are with the families and friends of the victims. Their thoughts and prayers are with them. What should have been a happy occasion has ended in tragedy.”
The leader of the nationalist SDLP visited the teams working at the crash site today. She praised their efforts and said they had faced a tough task accessing the top of Eagle Mountain where she said the crash took place.
The Mournes area is internationally renowned for its picturesque scenery. The mountain range, set on the coastline of south Co Down, is designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty.
The highest mountain in the range, Slieve Donard, is nearly 3,000 feet high.
But changeable weather patterns along the coast and the presence of the mountains have led to tragedy in the past.
Sinn Féin MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone Michelle Gildernew said: “The shock of this accident has been felt by people right across Co Down and Co Fermanagh.”
She added: “This is a shocking and tragic accident and my sympathies go out at this time to the families of those who have lost their lives.”
Democratic Unionist representative for South Down Jim Wells said he had spoken to many local residents who were saddened by the news. He said the area had suffered a string of incidents which had caused multiple deaths.
In June last year three men were killed when their light aircraft crashed into a field near a private landing strip at Kilkeel, Co Down.
The coastal community has also been hit by fishing tragedies in recent years.
And the death of four police officers killed when their 4x4 vehicle crashed on a winding road near Kilkeel in November 2008 also stunned the community.
Ulster Unionist representative John McCallister said he was shocked by the Mournes helicopter crash.
“This is an absolute tragedy, and my thoughts and prayers are with the families of those affected,” he said.
“I must also convey my thanks to rescue teams and the emergency services for their sterling work – we are deeply grateful for their efforts.”