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Ms Margaret Ritchie has sought leave to make a statement on a matter that fulfils the criteria that are set out in Standing Order 24. I will call Ms Ritchie to speak for up to three minutes on the subject. I will then call other Members from South Down, who will also have three minutes to speak.
On Friday last at 9.00 pm, a tragic air traffic accident took place near the Ballyardle Road, Kilkeel, in which Hugh McKnight, Andrew Burden and Stephen Annett lost their lives. My sympathy goes out to the families and friends of the deceased, and there is no doubt that the support and solidarity of the communities of Annalong, Ballymartin and Kilkeel are with them. I am very conscious of the anguish and trauma of the bereaved.
An investigation into the accident is ongoing. That investigation needs to examine the safety of light aircraft and, in particular, the special landscape and topographical features of the part of south Down in which the accident occurred. Not only was the crash a tragedy but it is a sign of a more worrying situation, for it is the second air accident in Kilkeel in three weeks. Moreover, not so long ago, a similar incident occurred in Cookstown, which thankfully and fortunately did not result in any fatalities. I am also mindful of other air traffic accidents, particularly the Air France disaster in which a young doctor from Ballygowan lost her life.
I will write to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Paul Clark, about the safety of light aircraft. I am doing that because air safety is a reserved matter, and thorough investigation is required. I hope that the current investigation is speedy and effective and makes recommendations that ensure that such incidents are eliminated.
It is important for the House to demonstrate solidarity with and support for the bereaved and to convey sympathy to those who are suffering at this difficult time.
I thank the Member for South Down Ms Ritchie for tabling this matter, because it is important for the House to extend its condolences to the families of Andrew Burden, Stephen Annett and Hugh McKnight, who died as a result of Friday’s tragedy. All had a love of sport and were coming back from the TT races on the Isle of Man when the incident occurred. Hugh had been ferrying people back and forth to that event all week, which was a generous gesture that, sadly, ended in tragedy.
It is one of a series of tragedies to have afflicted the South Down constituency in recent months. However, I know that the people of Mourne will rally around and give tremendous support to the families of the bereaved and that everyone will do whatever they can to help the families in these difficult circumstances.
A fitting tribute to those who died would be, as Ms Ritchie said, for something to be done to improve safety for light aircraft throughout Northern Ireland but particularly in Mourne. There was a serious accident only a few days before the latest event, and it was fortunate that there were no injuries, or worse, on that occasion. It would be welcome if, as a result of Friday night’s incident, something is done to help those who fly light aircraft in and out of small airstrips in south Down to do so safely.
This has been an awful event for all concerned, and I know that all Members will join me in passing our sympathies to the families.
Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I, too, extend my condolences to the families. This is a further tragedy to hit the Mournes following the loss of the four PSNI officers at Warrenpoint and the tragic fishing disaster that affected the Greene family.
I knew Hugh McKnight from his days in the RUC, and, although we did not see eye to eye on many occasions, he was always human and compassionate in how he dealt with members of the public. This is a sad loss to the whole Mourne and south Down area but particularly to the victims’ families. It must also be unbearable for everyone whose lives the three men touched.
I concur with what the other Members said about examining light aircraft safety, particularly at landing strips, which seem to be popping up regularly. That issue needs closer examination by the planning authorities and greater scrutiny by the regulators.
I convey Sinn Féin’s sympathy to all the families.
I thank the Member for South Down Ms Ritchie for tabling this matter. I extend, on behalf of the Ulster Unionist Party, our deepest and most sincere sympathies to the McKnight, Burden and Annett families.
At times such as these, when such a tragedy occurs, we rise to the challenge as one community and stand shoulder to shoulder with families who have suffered. It is so sad that three men’s participation in something that they loved — watching road racing at the TT on the Isle of Man and flying light aircraft, for which Mr McKnight had a passion — should end in tragedy. It reminds us all of how quickly events can turn to tragedy.
I think and hope that every Member and everyone across south Down and Northern Ireland will keep the families in their thoughts and prayers. We should do that at this difficult time and, indeed, in the weeks and months ahead, as the full extent of the loss sinks in for those families.
Just over six months ago, on 24 November 2008, the six South Down Assembly Members expressed condolences to the families of four young policemen and a young social worker who had died the previous weekend. Sadly, today, we express solidarity with the families of the pilot, Hugh McKnight, Andrew Burden and his young colleague, Stephen Annett.
As Minister Ritchie mentioned, County Down has suffered great tragedy. We heard about the fishing tragedies, and it is appropriate that we also think of the family of Dr Eithne Walls, who died in the Air France tragedy. I offer my sympathy and the sympathy of the people whom I represent to the families. It is difficult to comprehend the grief that they are experiencing at this time.