Chinook crash pilots ‘wrongly blamed’

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by a Newsnet reporter

Reports from the BBC suggest that the pilots of the RAF helicopter which crashed near the Mull of Kintyre in 1994, killing all 29 people on board, are to be cleared by the independent enquiry investigating the circumstances of the crash.  The findings of the enquiry, chaired by former judge Lord Philips, have now been sent to the defence secretary Liam Fox MP, who next week is due to make a statement in the House of Commons to inform MPs of Lord Philip’s findings.

In the first investigation into the accident, a team of senior RAF officers ruled that it had been due to ‘pilot error’ and charged Flight Lieutenants Richard Cook and Jonathan Tapper with gross negligence.  

Their ruling meant that the families of the pilots received no compensation for their loss and bereavement.  The families have since fought a long campaign to clear their loved ones’ names.

The passengers killed were senior intelligence and police officers returning from a conference in Northern Ireland.  The officers were en-route to a golf course in Inverness to relax after the conference.  Concerns were raised after the crash about the wisdom of allowing such a concentration of vital personnel on a recreational trip.

Earlier this year it emerged that over two years before the crash, a report to senior officers and MoD officials had raised serious concerns about the airworthiness of the new Mark II Chinooks.  This report had not been made available to previous enquiries investigating the crash.  The Mark II Chinook had been rushed into service despite the fact that a number of critical safety issues had yet to be addressed.

The flight officers had themselves expressed worries about the safety of the helicopters and had requested that their commanding officers allow them to fly the Mark I instead.  The request was refused.  Flight Lt. Cook was so worried by the refusal that he took the unusual step of altering his life insurance policy just days before the crash.

Angus Robertson, the SNP defence spokesman and leader of the party at Westminster has long campaigned for justice for the flight crew.  Speaking to the Guardian newspaper Mr Robertson said: “I hope that these reports are accurate.  It is time that justice was done, and the defence secretary must finally clear the pilots of any blame.

“In light of Lord Philip’s recommendations and given that the initial RAF internal finding, the fatal accident inquiry, and a House of Lords report all concluding that there was no evidence that the pilots were to blame, the position of the MoD is now untenable.  It is a disgrace the way the families of Flight Lieutenants Jonathan Tapper and Richard Cook have been treated by successive administrations and it’s time that the record was officially set straight.”

 

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