A DEFECT with a helicopter's combination gearbox led to the aircraft crashing in north Hampshire killing a Romsey man and two others.

North east Hampshire coroner, Andrew Bradley, recorded a verdict of misadventure at the inquest into the deaths of Neville Moger, 45, of Hogarth Close at Woodley and the pilot Captain Ian Shoobridge and engineer James Gordon Stables - both from Wiltshire.

All three died instantly when their Twin Squirrel helicopter came down in a field and burst into flames at Hurstbourne Tarrant, near Andover, in December, 2003. The helicopter had taken off from Thruxton airfield where it was based, shortly before the tragedy. The families of the dead men were hoping for an unlawful killing verdict.

The Air Accident Investigation Board acknowledged father-of-three Mr Moger, Mr Shoobridge and Mr Gordon-Stables were all highly experienced and they were not to blame in any way for the crash that claimed their lives.

Accident investigators are continuing inquiries into the crash and a full report into the tragedy will be published in due course.

It has been suggested the wrong coating on components within the aircraft's mechanisms may have led to the accident but the German manufacture has disputed the claims.

This week's three-day inquest at Basingstoke heard that the aircraft's had been taken on a test flight after undergoing major engineering works on its two gearboxes.

Air Accident investigators told the inquest one of the helicopter's gearboxes was detached at the site where it crashed.

Stephen Moss from the Air Accident Investigation Branch said the craft's freewheel drive had moved and this had allowed the engine to over-speed. As a result the freewheel re-engaged, leading to a sudden reapplication of power. This caused a structural failure to the tail boom and ended with catastrophic results.

Mr Moss, an inspector with the AAIB, said the authority believed the rollers in the freewheel mechanism had slipped because they were coated in error with the wrong product manufactured by the German component company FAG Kugelfischer.