Warwickshire businessman and former rally team leader David Richards yesterday paid further tribute to killed rally ace Colin McRae, even after escaping a helicopter crash himself..

Mr Richards, the chairman of Aston Martin, was back at work at the Prodrive plant in Banbury, Oxfordshire, less than 24 hours after he and his wife walked out of the wreckage of their helicopter after an emergency landing in an Essex field.

He said yesterday he had not been thinking about his friend and former employee McRae - who died in a helicopter crash on Saturday - when his blue Eurocoter developed a mechanical fault.

Instead he said he was just thinking about bringing the craft down safely, and saving his wife Karen and himself.

"I was able to bring the helicopter down safely in a ploughed field, but as we came to a halt, the aircraft fell on its side," said Mr Richards, who has more than 20 years' experience as a helicopter pilot.

"We were clearly both shocked at the incident but were both very fortunate to be able to walk away unscathed.

"The emergency services were on the scene within minutes and I would particularly like to pay tribute to them for their professionalism."

In a statement, he paid tribute to former World Rally Champion Colin McRae, also a licensed helicopter pilot, who died in the accident on Saturday.

The driver had won the championship while racing for the Subaru team, which was controlled by Mr Richards's Pro-drive firm.

McRae died with his son Johnny, aged just five, along with six-year-old Ben Porcelli, of Lanark, and Graeme Duncan, 37, who lived in France.

Mr Richards said: "Despite his success he always remained a very approachable person, someone who would always take time to talk to his fans and who continued to support the sport which brought him his fame.

"On a personal note he was also great friend. I have known him for more than 20 years since he was a teenager, sitting in the service park watching his father Jimmy compete in one of our Porsche rally cars.

"While it is a very sad day for motor-sport, we should remember that Colin was a family man and I know I can speak for everyone at Prodrive and Subaru when I say that all our thoughts are with his wife and family at this very sad time."

Meanwhile, McRae's father Jimmy yesterday said it was "ironic" his daredevil son died just yards from his front door in a helicopter crash.

Mr McRae said: "It's very ironic really when you consider the dangerous life that Colin did have in his career as a rally driver, to lose his life here 50 yards from the front door of his house and not only that, he had our grandson Johnny with him and Johnny's best pal Ben and a very close school friend of Colin who moved to France this year.

"It's so ironic it's just almost unbelievable."

Mr McRae said he did not know much about the circumstances of the crash but said he had every confidence in his son's ability as a pilot: "He had a passion for helicopters and piloting as he did for driving rally cars.

"He was very good at driving rally cars and as far as I'm concerned he was a perfect pilot and I know very experienced pilots had sat beside him. I'm sure it's not a pilot error."

A spokesman for the Department of Transport said investigators were studying the crash site for signs of mechanical failure. The team of experts will consider whether they need to take any of the wreckage to their headquarters in Farnborough, Hampshire, for further examination.