THE death of a wealthy businessman and his helicopter pilot in a crash at Bournemouth Airport was “not an accident”, a friend has insisted after fresh claims of a Russian link.

The area’s MP has also said he is sceptical about the official conclusion into the death of Stephen Curtis, 45, and Bournemouth-based pilot Max Radford, 34.

The two died when an Augusta 109E helicopter crashed on the approach to Hurn on March 3, 2004.

An official investigation blamed pilot error, but the coroner heard of death threats against Mr Curtis and said the case had “all the ingredients of an espionage thriller”.

The case has been cited by the news website BuzzFeed as being among 14 deaths where Russian involvement was suspected. The issue has been revived by the poisoning of a former spy agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury.

Mr Curtis, who owned a castle on Portland, was chief executive of Menatep, a company owned by Russian oil giant Yukos, and was said to have been caught in a power struggle between Vladimir Putin and Yukos owner Mikhal Khodorkovsky.

Pilot John Hackney, who was a friend of Max Radford for around two years, has said those who knew him never believed the official verdict that he had become disorientated and lost control of his aircraft.

He met Mr Radford on the day of the crash and saw the helicopter.

“It had everything you could imagine an aircraft to have. He wouldn’t be lost because he was on the approach to where he was going to land,” he said.

He added: “The day of the funeral at Poole Crematorium, the little place was packed. All of us who knew Max and were friends with him said exactly the same – ‘This is not an accident’. That sort of helicopter, you don’t have an accident so near the ground where you’re going to land in a straight line.

“We all said to his dad, as long as we live we shall never ever believe this story.”

Some witnesses near the crash scene are believed to have told the Air Accident Investigations Branch (AAIB) that they saw the plane burst into flames before it hit the ground.

Yvette Cooper, chair of the House of Commons home affairs select committee, wants a review of the 14 deaths mentioned by BuzzFeed.

Christchurch MP Sir Chris Chope said: “I was always sceptical about the official verdict on it but looking at these things, the best assassins are the ones who cover their tracks.”

He said Russia was “very good at destroying their enemies”.

“Whether it could be the state or mafia groups or whoever, how can we prove it if you haven’t got the evidence?” he added.

The original AAIB investigation found there was no evidence of sabotage and that Mr Radford must have become disorientated when the weather worsened and he was forced to rely only on his instruments. “The pilot’s limited instrument flying background did not equip him to cope with the difficult situation in which he found himself,” it said.