THE RAF helicopter which crashed last night in North Yorkshire killing two people was based at RAF Benson near Wallingford.

The aircraft involved in the crash was a Puma helicopter from 33 Squadron, RAF Benson, according to the Ministry of Defence.

Today the flag at the base was being flown at half mast.

Twelve personnel were on board, three from the RAF and nine from the Army.

The helicopter came down in a wooded area to the west of Catterick Garrison at 9pm.

Air accident investigators were searching the wreckage for clues as to why it crashed, and a board of inquiry has been set up to find the cause of the accident.

Two people were confirmed dead at the scene while the ten injured were taken to surrounding hospitals in Darlington, Northallerton, Middlesbrough and Newcastle.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said: "No further details about the personnel involved will be given until all families have been informed.

"The cause of the accident is still unknown and a full investigation is now in progress.

"Our sympathies are with the families and loved ones of those involved."

RAF spokesman Michael Mulford added: "They (air investigators) will go through every possible detail, everything to do with the maintenance of the aircraft, everything to do with the crew hours and flying hours, weather conditions, mechanics and electrics - everything you can think of that might contribute to an accident."

North Yorkshire Police secured the scene, and the rescue operation involved aircraft from RAF Leconfield and RAF Boulmer, as well as a mountain rescue team from RAF Leeming.

Eyewitness Andrew Pavey told the BBC that the helicopter came down like "a sack of potatoes".

He added: "We watched this helicopter quite rapidly go straight up into the air and it didn't sound right.

"It sounded like the engine was misfiring or something - it was making a hell of a racket."

A South Tees Hospitals NHS Trust spokeswoman said two of the crash victims were in a critical condition after being airlifted to the James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough after the crash.

The MoD confirmed that the RAF helicopter had been working with the Army at the garrison.

The garrison is the UK's largest Army base with 7,500 regular soldiers, 1,900 recruits and 2,000 civilian staff.

The RAF Puma helicopter can reach a speed of 147 knots and carry 16 fully-equipped troops or up to two tonnes of freight.

The same helicopter type was involved in an accident in Iraq in April, in which two British servicemen were killed after two RAF Pumas collided.

One of the victims was RAF Sergeant Mark McLaren, a 27-year-old father of twin baby boys, who grew up in Carterton.

At the time, Defence Secretary Des Browne said the RAF's fleet of Pumas had a good safety record but a full investigation would be carried out.

On July 19, 2004, Flt Lt Kristian Gover, a helicopter pilot from RAF Benson, died in a Puma helicopter at Basra Airport. He was the "non-handling" pilot at the time of the crash with the helicopter flown by Flt Lt Daniel Brook.

A spokesman at RAF Benson said: "We are not giving any details of the injured or of the people who died until next of kin have been informed.

"We cannot confirm or deny whether the fatalities were from RAF Benson."

There was tight security on the gate and civilian staff and serving personnel have been banned from talking to the media.

The names of the two fatalities from Yorkshire are not expected to be released until Friday at the earliest.

  • Concerned families of military personnel should contact the Ministry of Defence major incident number on 0845 7800 900.