A millionaire Brighouse couple have been killed in a helicopter crash at a luxury hotel and golf complex near Harrogate.

Wholesale goods entrepreneurs, Paul Spencer, 43, and his wife Linda, 59, died when a private Gazelle helicopter they were flying crashed in woodland in the grounds of the Rudding Park Hotel on Saturday afternoon.

The couple, whose Leeds-based firm Country Baskets is one of the country's leading suppliers of goods ranging from artificial flowers to furniture, had been due to attend a dinner at the hotel on Saturday night.

The black helicopter crashed soon after taking off from the hotel grounds.

Weather forecasters said there had been high winds in the area earlier on Saturday, which had partially subsided by the time of the crash.

Conditions were, however, still described as gusty.

Police believe Mr and Mrs Spencer died instantly in the accident which left mangled wreckage strewn through the woodland.

The Spencers' family members last night paid their tributes through a North Yorkshire Police spokesman. They described them as a "wonderful couple who were devoted to each other and their family".

The tribute continued: "They were genuinely generous to all around them, often helping people who were less fortunate than themselves.

"From modest beginnings they built a successful business which operated throughout the UK, employing hundreds of people.

"Their family and friends have been left devastated by the tragedy, but can take comfort that at the time of the accident they were in one of their favourite places together and doing something they both loved."

A North Yorkshire Police spokesman said the couple's family were being supported by specially-trained officers.

Mr and Mrs Spencer started their company selling artificial flowers and sundries at a market stall in Halifax.

In the space of 13 years they had built up their empire to include branches in Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow.

Inspector Tad Nowakowski, of North Yorkshire Police, described their deaths as a tragic accident. He said: "My thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of the casualties at this time.

"This is a tragic accident and our job, along with the Air Accident Investigation Branch, is to establish the cause of the crash, which might take some time.

"We will also be providing support for the bereaved family.

"They have visited the scene and laid flowers. They are understandably devastated at this tragic accident."

A North Yorkshire Fire Service spokesman said following the crash, a search was carried out in the area, but no-one else was found.

The couple's bodies were removed from the wreckage yesterday and formally identified at 4.30pm. It is believed they had recently returned from a holiday in the Caribbean.

The mangled wreckage remained cordoned off in the woodland as experts scoured the area looking for clues to the cause of the tragedy.

The investigation by the police and the Air Accidents Investigation Branch was continuing today.

Several eyewitnesses have already come forward but police are appealing for anyone else who saw the helicopter before it crashed to contact North Yorkshire Police on 0845 6060247.

e-mail: james.rush @bradford.newsquest.co.uk