Helicopter 'bows in tribute' on 25th anniversary of deadly air ambulance crash

WATCH: ITV News Meridian's Kit Bradshaw reports on a day of special commemorations

An air ambulance ‘bowed in tribute’ during a flypast to mark 25 years since a deadly helicopter crash.

The aircraft tilted its nose in a salute to the three men who lost their lives when the Kent Air Ambulance came down in a valley near Rochester on 26 July 1998.

The experienced pilot and two paramedics on board were killed, when their helicopter suffered a mechanical failure, before striking power cables – just miles from their airport base. 

Families, friends and former colleagues gathered at a memorial stone on Blue Bell Hill this morning, close to the crash site, to pay their respects.

Air investigators examine the wreckage of the Kent Air Ambulance in Nashenden Valley near Rochester in July 1998. Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

A three-minute silence was observed, 60 seconds for each life lost. Former RAF pilot Graham Budden, 40, was at the controls. He died at the scene alongside paramedics Mark Darby, 37, and Tony Richardson, 47.

“Twenty-five years is a poignant reminder of what those three crewmen in the air ambulance helicopter gave not only to their work but to those people in need who they were seeking to serve,” said The Very Revd John Richardson, vicar of All Saints Church.

The accident happened at 4.37pm on a Sunday afternoon in good weather. The crew had been returning to their Rochester Airport base after responding to an emergency call on a nearby motorway. A court later ruled mechanical failure was to blame. 

Pilot Graham Budden died alongside paramedics Mark Darby and Tony Richardson when their helicopter crashed following a mechanical failure..

Chair of the Kent Surrey Sussex Air Ambulance Charity, Barney Burgess, said: “Graham, Mark and Tony will never be forgotten. They’ll permanently be part of the KSS family. 

“We’re inspired by their legacy, we’re incredibly grateful for the work they did for the charity. We’ve kept going for the past 25 years to try to further those efforts and save lives across the counties.”

During the helicopter’s flypast, it circled the site three times. A memorial bench was also unveiled at KSS’s Rochester Airport headquarters, along with a plaque as a lasting tribute to the three men who died. 

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