An equestrian who campaigns for riders to wear hi-viz so pilots could spot them has said the “system works” after encountering a low-flying helicopter while out hacking.
Lincolnshire-based Sandra Murphy worked with the MOD to improve safety for riders following the death of Heather Bell, who was killed when when her horse was spooked by a Chinook in 2004.
Last week, Sandra was out for a ride with her daughter when they saw a helicopter approaching. She captured the incident on her phone camera as she was filming Jesse, the horse her daughter was riding, who has recently returned from an injury.
“My daughter kept turning round to look at a helicopter that was flying really low,” Sandra said. “Another one then appeared right on top of us travelling at around 150ft.
“I’d literally only washed my hi-viz the day before and he must have seen us as he suddenly turned hard right to avoid us, flew round as and then got back on course.
“My mare was as good as gold as you can see from the footage, but the helicopter was flying a lot lower than it appears in the clip and it was loud. Horses are prey animals and she could have easily be spooked by something overhead.”
Sandra said that after years of campaigning, it was rewarding to see the system working and the pilot taking evasive action.
“I’m pleased to know he was taking notice of what was going on on the ground as it avoided what could have been a nasty incident,” she said.
RAF Wittering has handed out fluorescent kit to riders to tie in with the arrival of Chinook helicopters at the
New figures reveal that aircraft are logging fewer low-flying hours, reducing complaints by members of the public, including equestrians
It is believed the horses were injured after being spooked by the jets
Sandra lives locally to where Heather’s fatal accident took place and was affected by the same Chinook flying low overhead that day.
“My mare went through a fence and I screamed and hit the deck — it was flying so low and came right over the top of my house,” Sandra recalled. “I was in the RAF for 12 years, but that’s the lowest I have ever seen an aircraft other than on an airfield.”
Because of her experience in the airforce, Sandra volunteered to work with the MOD to improve safety following the accident.
“If a low flying incident was reported, I dealt with the MOD, and it was a role I continued with for quite some time,” Sandra said. “After the inquest several things were put in place and the low flying incidents went down significantly and I didn’t need to do it any more.
“The hi-viz campaign, which was through the BHS, went well and most people now wear it as a matter of course. We agreed with the MOD riders needed to maximize their visibility, but that they also needed to agree to not fly at such low heights.
“What happened out on our hack just shows that working together like that was the way forward.”
For all the latest news analysis, competition reports, interviews, features and much more, don’t miss Horse & Hound magazine, on sale every Thursday