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Doubts over 1st inquiry into Mull of Kintyre chopper crash (Read 1449 times)
 
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Doubts over 1st inquiry into Mull of Kintyre chopper crash
Sep 9th, 2010 at 9:35am
 
Doubts over first inquiry into Mull of Kintyre helicopter disaster
The decision to blame the pilots for the 1994 disaster that killed 29 people is seen by many as a manifest injustice

Richard Norton-Taylor
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 8 September 2010 13.52 BST

The decision by two senior RAF officers to overrule the official board of inquiry and blame Flight Lieutenants Jonathan Tapper and Rick Cook, the two experienced Special Forces pilots, for the crash of Chinook Zulu Delta 576, has been a running sore in air force circles for years.
As more and more evidence emerged to cast doubt on the official verdict, senior politicians including Sir Malcolm Rifkind, defence secretary at the time, and the former prime minister John Major came round to the view that blaming the pilots was a manifest injustice.
It seemed, though they vigorously denied it, that the ruling by Air Chief Marshal Sir William Wratten and Air Vice Marshal John Day that the pilots were guilty of "gross negligence" for flying into cloud below the level of the surrounding hills on the Mull of Kintyre, was convenient, especially given the nature of the helicopter's passengers top security and intelligence officials from Northern Ireland.
For the RAF to establish "gross negligence" it had to meet the high standard of "absolutely no doubt whatsoever". The Ministry of Defence itself decided amid the growing controversy that in future official boards of inquiry into fatal military aircraft accidents pilots would not be blamed. The decision came after mounting evidence of faults in the Chinook Mark 2's computer system, some but not all, eventually admitted by the MoD.
The MoD refused to disclose information about the faults. In one of many similar blocking explanations, John Spellar, a junior MoD minister, claimed in 1997 that to disclose the nature of the faults would "harm the frankness and candour of internal reporting".
Yet two years earlier, the MoD had won $3m in damages from the US manufacturers as a result of Chinook engine software faults. One of many experts not called to give evidence at the fatal accident inquiry was Squadron Leader Robert Burke, a test pilot at the Chinook base at RAF Odiham in Hampshire.
Burke said he was told by his superior officer not to help the accident investigation or discuss it with his colleagues. "He ordered me to keep quiet," Burke said.
Related faults were found on the ZD576 Chinook just weeks before the accident on 16 May, 17 May, and again on 19 May 1994, according to Burke.
As a result, both the helicopter's engine and its electronic control unit, were changed. "In 1994 at the time of the accident, Boscombe Down pilots considered the aircraft so unsafe that they would not even fly it to Odiham a 15-minute flight", Burke explained.
But despite pleas from the families of the pilots. RAF pilots, and many others, Tony Blair and successive defence ministers declined to reopen the case.
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