THE former rally driving champion Colin McRae was killed and his five year-old son feared dead in a helicopter crash yesterday afternoon. The aircraft came down in Jerviswood, Lanarkshire, half a mile from the family's home and burst into flames just after 4pm.
Jean-Eric Freudiger, McRae's agent, said the 39-year-old driver had been piloting the helicopter himself. Also on board were believed to be his son Johnny, another adult and another child. Police said there were no survivors.
McRae's wife Alison and their daughter Hollie, 9, were not on board, friends said.
McRae became Britain's first World Rally champion in 1995. He was one of the country's most successful sportsmen, achieving 25 wins in World Rally events and 42 podium places. He was a flamboyant driver, inspiring one the world's best-selling computer rally games.
The helicopter came down within half a mile of McRae's home, Jervis House, a 16th-century tower house, which has an adjacent helipad. The weather had been overcast, with a light breeze, but visibility was good.
Strathclyde police said the extent of the fire damage was making identification a problem.
McRae's wife, a childhood sweetheart and his former co-driver, was taken back to the house under police escort shortly after 6pm. She looked calm, but neighbours gathering outside the house looked shaken with grief.
McRae's friend the rally journalist Jeremy Hart who flew with the champion several times described him as a "very good, very measured pilot whose natural ability with machinery was second to none". "Colin regularly flew all over the UK and into Europe," said Hart. "He knew the terrain and conditions at Jerviswood very well. It was the place he flew into most regularly.
"As a driver Colin was misunderstood slightly as being reckless but everything you saw with him came from pure raw talent as opposed to being learnt. He was the Michael Schumacher of rally driving.
"It's so ironic that he should die in a helicopter crash when he had competed and had brushed with death so many times as a rally driver."
Additional reporting: Paul Lamarra