A British businessman who last year bought the company that makes the Segway scooter fell to his death off a cliff in northern England, apparently while riding one of the vehicles on his estate.

West Yorkshire police said in a statement that the body of Jimi Heselden, 62, had been pulled Monday from the River Wharfe near the town of Boston Spa after a call from a passerby.

Local media reports said he was believed to have lost control of his scooter Sunday on a wooded path that runs close to a 30-foot drop to the river.

Heselden bought the New Hampshire-based Segway company in December. The former coal miner made his fortune after losing his job in the widespread mine closures of the mid-1980s. Using his expertise in coal-mining blast methods, he formed a company, Hesco Bastionhttp://www.hesco.com/, which manufactures protective barriers.

The barriers, known as "sand baskets," consist of wire frames with liners that are filled with dirt, sand or rocks. They are considered better than sandbags in protecting against explosions and have been widely adopted by militaries all over the world, including the U.S. military, since the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Heselden, said to be worth $265 million, became well known in Yorkshire as a philanthropist who donated to local charities and more recently to a fund to help rehabilitate injured soldiers. Tributes from local and national figures praised him as a generous local hero who never forgot his roots.

British law restricts the use of Segway scooters to private land. The device, invented by Dean Kamen, can travel at a top speed of about 12 mph. In July, a rider was prosecuted for riding one on a sidewalk.

However, the Daily Telegraph reported that Segway sales, which had reached only half the target of 40,000 vehicles last year, had shown a 12% increase for the first six months of this year.

Copyright 2010 Los Angeles Times