A CORONER has urged power firms to ensure overhead cables in low flying zones are highly visibile after the deaths of two Army helicopter pilots.

An inquest heard that Warrant Officer Vince Hussell, 36, of Marton- le-Moor, near Ripon, North Yorkshire, was instructing Lieutenant Mark Reynolds, 24, a former head monitor at Ampleforth College, near Helmsley, North Yorkshire, when their helicopter hit power lines in Devon in May 2008.

The hearing, in Exeter, heard that WO Hussell died soon after the crash. Lt Reynolds, a Durham University engineering graduate, was found on the ground at the crash site, but died on arrival at hospital after being airlifted there by an RAF helicopter.

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They were on the final day of a training course.

Coroner Dr Elizabeth Earland said WO Hussell, who had more than 2,000 hours of flying experience, and Lt Reynolds had been unable to see 130ft-high copper lines crossing a wooded valley because the cables had oxidized and were green, camouflaging them.

Dr Earland said: “Even though the presence of the lines was known, they were impossible to see in some lights. I consider this to have been a crucial factor in these deaths.”

She also called for improved contact between the military and the utility firms.

After the inquest, which was attended by both pilots’ families, Lt Reynolds’ father, Colonel Mike Reynolds, said “existing rules seemed more concerned with protecting birds than aviators”.

He said: “We hope the recommendations of this inquest and the Army board of inquiry will be implemented without delay.”

Western Power Distribution, which maintains the power lines, said it would study the recommendations.

WO Hussell, who had three sons and was known as “Happy Vince” to his colleagues, had served with 9 Regiment Army Air Corps, in Dishforth, near Thirsk, North Yorkshire, and had flown helicopters in Afghanistan.

The former England schoolboy footballer spent much of his free time at weekends training Pannal Ash under-eights football team, in Harrogate.

Lt Reynolds, of Aslockton, near Nottingham, had served in Iraq.