Date: 10 March 2011
Originally published in: Times & Star (UK)
Eighties pop star Kim Wilde has led the tributes to Mark Weir, the leading West Cumbrian businessman killed in a helicopter crash this week.
Ms Wilde broke down in tears yesterday when talking about the Honister Slate Mine owner, who she described as a true legend. Father-of-three Mr Weir, 45, set off on a routine flight from the mine just after 7pm on Tuesday. But he was reported missing by his family at about 10.10pm when he failed to make it to his home at Mosser, near Cockermouth. It sparked a massive man hunt by Cockermouth and Keswick mountain rescue teams, police and the RAF.
Mr Weir and the remains of his four-seater helicopter were discovered just 656ft south east from the Borrowdale mine, at around 12.30am on Wednesday, by members of Cockermouth Mountain Rescue Team. Mike Park, team leader, said: “It was a windy night and the cloud cover was pretty poor. When we arrived at the mine we made sure the helicopter wasn’t there. Then we started to look. After leaving the vehicles there was a strong smell of fuel so we followed our noses to the scene.”
Mr Weir’s mother Celia Taylor was escorted to the crash site by police on Wednesday morning, and he was identified by his partner, Jan Wilkinson, at 5.30pm the same day. An investigation has been launched by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch, and police are treating it as an accident.
Ms Wilde, who is now a gardener, used Honister slate in her award winning Chelsea Flower Show garden in 2005. A tearful Ms Wilde said: “Winning gold with that beautiful green slate from Mark’s mine was one of the happiest days of my life. After I’d won I called Mark and made him fly down from his mine to be part of the celebrations. Mark was an inspiration, a living legend, and now that he’s gone his legend will live on through the amazing work he has already done. I have met a lot of wonderful people in my life but none more so than Mark. He was hugely charismatic and I have never met anyone with so much energy. He was passionate about his work and it showed. He showed me around the mine and his enthusiasm and dedication was clear for all to see. His death is a very sad day for Cumbria.”
TV presenter Julia Bradbury also paid tribute to Mr Weir, describing him as a personal friend. Some of her family stayed with Mr Weir over the half-term break. The BBC Countryfile presenter said: “Mark was an extraordinary man. He had energy and a passion for life. He also adored flying and, after his family, this was his motivation – to be able to fly in the sky every day. My love and thoughts are with his partner Jan and his three children and all his family. My family and I will miss him terribly. The world has lost a special vital person.”
A spokesman for Mr Weir’s family and the mine, which employs about 30 people, said: “Mark was a charismatic Lake District legend with a lust for life and a giant personality. Mark loved Honister and Mark was Honister.”