Wednesday, 25 November 2015

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Tribute to Cumbrian mine owner killed in helicopter crash

One of Cumbria’s most colourful businessmen has died after the helicopter he was piloting crashed in the Lake District.

Mark Weir photo
Mark Weir

The family of Mark Weir, the owner of Honister Slate Mine and Visitor Centre, were this morning said to be totally devastated.

A spokesman said: “Mark was a charismatic Lake District legend with a lust for life and a giant personality. He was passionate about everything he did from fatherhood to flying and business.

“Mark loved Honister and Mark was Honister.”

A spokeswoman for Cumbria Constabulary said the alarm was raised at 10.10pm yesterday when police had a report that Mr Weir, 45, from Mosser, near Cockermouth, had failed to come home after a routine helicopter flight.

It is understood that he left the mine in his helicopter just after 7pm after a day’s work at the mine and tourism business.

An experienced helicopter pilot, the father of three had flown in Cumbria for many years.

Police officers worked alongside Cockermouth mountain rescue team and search dogs to comb the area, helped by a helicopter from RAF Kinloss in Scotland.

At 12.44am today, the searchers found a crashed helicopter, 200 metres south east of the Honister slate mine in Borrowdale.

The police spokeswoman said: “The pilot was found dead in the helicopter at the scene. Formal identification is yet to take place. However, it is believed to be local man, Mark Weir. His family have been informed and will be supported by trained family liaison officers.”

Fire and rescue crews were today at the scene and a team from the Air Accident Investigation Branch at Swanwick has been deployed and will lead the air crash investigation.

The spokeswoman said police are treating the crash as a tragic accident, though a thorough investigation will now be carried out by the AAIB.

Mr Weir has rarely been out of the headlines in recent years as he has sought to make a success of Honister Slate Mine, which he revived in 1997 and its neighbouring visitor centre.

Speaking of the enterprise recently, he said: “When I first bought the mine I knew nothing about mining, rock, slate or quarries.

“It needed a lot of work done but when you take on a project like that with the hope of becoming an entrepreneur, you learn a lot of things pretty quickly.

“Honesty and integrity are the things which move you on in life. These traits give you inner strength and enable you to grow. It was my sheer will and enthusiasm that helped me move the mine forward. We now see on average 60,000 visitors a year.”

More recently, Mr Weir hit the headlines as he put forward controversial plans – later withdrawn – for a huge zip wire from Black Star, just below Fleetwith Pike, to the base of Honister Slate Mine visitor centre.

He had a near miss during the west Cumbria floods in November 2009 when his tractor was swept away by raging flood water.

Speaking of his pride to have been born in the area where he lived and worked, he said: “Flying over it, it makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up even now. I’ve been privileged to have been born here.”

Mr Weir was a father of three and lived with his partner, Jan Wilkinson, at Paradigm Cottages where Jan runs luxury self-catering accommodation from the renovated buildings.

A self-made man, one of Mr Weir’s first jobs was grave digging in Borrowdale churchyards at the age of 13. It earned him £35 for every grave and he saved every penny to learn to fly.

Later he flew a commercial helicopter operation in Leeds, became a restaurateur and a contractor who helped build Keswick Pool and Spa and Pilkington retirement home in Cockermouth.

Mr Weir bought the derelict slate mine from McAlpines around 15 years ago, knowing next to nothing about mining.

In the early days of his enterprise when times were tough, he would tell people his grandfather – who started work at Honister when he was 14 – sent a message from beyond the grave urging him not to sell the mine.

And so the entrepreneur turned it into a thriving tourist attraction and the mine continues to supply slate to the building trade and crushed rock to places like B&Q.

It employs around 30 staff.

Last year it was declared “outstanding” by tourism authority Visit England.

Mr Weir was also clearing much of the old and derelict mining infrastructure scattered across the crags of Fleetwith Pike.

Mr Weir would fly to work in his four-seater helicopter from a landing pad behind his home, near Loweswater.

  • Mr Weir's body was formally identified by his partner this evening.


Have your say

I second what the first poster has written. I grew up in a fishing village in cornwall. In 20 years its now a shadow of its former self as the local fishing industry has dwindled and its not likely you can introduce a new industry to such a location. Its an amazing achievement what he had done in 15 years. This zip wire was strand in the life line that Mark has created at Honister which it needs, the community needs and the lakes needs. So short sighted, so sad, so desperate.

Posted by David Andrew on 25 October 2011 at 10:22

I too watched the documentary last night, as a passionate walker and climber myself with many years spent up in the lakes, i was at first on the side of the parties concerned with regards the preservation of the paths and fauna that thrive on these hills, however, after seeing Mark's obvious love and understanding of his surroundings and the preservation of the mine and it's workforce i was very much firmly on his side by the end of the program, what a tragic shame it was not to be, could not even begin to imagine what it must have been like for his family, and to impose a £15,000 fine for the non removal of the Vera Ferrata AFTER he died to his widow is just outrageous at best, and downright wicked at worst, these groups and government bodies pertain to love and protect these areas of outstanding natural beauty, when in fact the REAL hard work and understanding is always best served in the hands of those that know the area in depth, the locals, volunteers, and all the hard working well meaning folk of the lakes, lose the mine and you lose another small part of a life and community under threat, conservation? they don't know the meaning of the word, God bless his family and workforce..............

Posted by Mark Robbins on 24 October 2011 at 09:46

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