MoD apologises for blaming pilots for Chinook crash

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by a Newsnet reporter

In a statement made to the House of Commons today, Defence Minister Liam Fox made an official apology on behalf of the Ministry of Defence for wrongly blaming the pilots of the Chinook helicopter which crashed on the Mull of Kintyre in 1994, killing all 29 on board.

The initial RAF inquiry into the crash published a report stating that the most likely cause of the accident was “an inappropriate rate of climb”.  However there was no evidence to suggest that  either pilot, Flight Lieutenant Jonathan Tapper and Flight Lieutenant Richard Cook, was negligent.

The fatal accident enquiry held in Paisley was less certain of this version of events, a sherrif at the inquiry saying at the time: “It may then be asked what was the cause of the accident.  For my part I can only say that I do not know.”

However following these enquiries two senior RAF officers, Air Chief Marshal Sir William Wratten and Air Vice Marshall Sir John Day, decided that they did know, and overturned the findings of the previous RAF board of enquiry.  The senior officers ruled that the accident had been caused by pilot error, and charged the deceased Flight Lieutenants with gross negligence.

The families of Flight Lieutenants Tapper and Cook and their supporters then embarked on a long campaign to clear the pilots’ names.  In addition to the emotional pain and upset, the decision of the senior officers caused considerable economic difficulties for the surviving wives and families as the charge of gross negligence meant the families were not eligible for compensation.

A fresh enquiry was ordered after it came to light that there had been concerns about the airworthiness of the Mark II Chinook helicopter which crashed.  The new enquiry, headed by Lord Philip, overturned the findings of the senior RAF officers and ruled that legally, blame could only be apportioned if there was “absolutely no doubt whatsoever” given that all witnesses to the crash died in the accident and the wreckage was too badly damaged to allow investigators to pin down an exact cause.  

Lord Philip judged that it was impossible to state with certainty what caused the crash, however he noted that one of the Flight Lieutenants had expressed concerns about the airworthiness of the helicopter some days before the accident, and had suggested that transporting so many valuable intelligence personnel in a single aircraft was imprudent.

Chris Cook, brother of Flt Lt Richard Cook, said today that he hoped the families could now find a sense of closure and added: “The reputations of these two young officers have been restored and we feel a dreadful wrong has been righted.”