Dishonouring the Dead

Air Marshal Sir John Day and Air Chief Marshall Sir William Wratten should hang their heads in shame.

The respect in which our Service men and women are held by the public at large is quite remarkable. Royal Wootten Bassett earned the gratitude of the nation and its “Royal” title because of the touching acts of respect residents showed to the fallen returning from Afghanistan, whose hearses by chance used to pass through their quiet town. The contempt in which the Ministry of Defence is held is equally remarkable. The MOD is an institution which has under-performed in spectacular style and has displayed gross incompetence, deceitfulness, and petty bickering on a staggering scale. It deals in denial, cover-up and blame shifting.

In 1994, an RAF Chinook helicopter crashed on the Mull of Kintyre, killing the crew of four and all twenty five passengers. It was described as “the largest peace time tragedy that the Royal Air Force had suffered”. The cause of the crash could not be determined by the Air Accident Investigation Branch, nor by an RAF Board of Inquiry who did not find the pilots, Flight Lieutenants Jonathan Tapper and Richard Cook, negligent. Nor was negligence found by the civilian Fatal Accident Enquiry. This was because there was no evidence that they were.

The RAF Manual of Flight Safety AP 3207 published by the Inspectorate of Flight Safety and in force at the time of the accident provided in paragraph 9 of Annex G to Chapter 8 that “only in cases in which there is absolutely no doubt whatsoever should deceased air crew be found negligent”.

This strict rule did not trouble the AOC 1 Group and the C-in-C Strike Command, both of whom were required to give a final review of the Board of Inquiry into the crash. Despite there being no facts to support him, AVM Day concluded that both pilots were negligent to a gross degree and ACM William Wratten agreed with him.

What is known is that the Chinook was a deeply troubled aircraft with a history of mysterious faults that would show up during flight but be untraceable on later inspection. A report two years previous to the crash had cast doubt on the airworthiness of the Chinook fleet. And a House of Lords Select Committee which also investigated the crash in 2002 covered all this in great depth and included this telling account in their report:

Witness A, who was a member of the Special Forces Flight with considerable experience of flying Chinooks operationally, had, at the time of the accident, experienced intermittent engine fail captions on a reasonably regular basis. He had subsequently experienced torque mismatches on an intermittent basis. Pilots were instructed that if the failed captions remained on for more than 12 seconds they were to be treated as though something was wrong with the engine but if they stayed on for less than that time they could be ignored. When a caption came on in flight one of the crew was directed to check engine instrumentation and the engine itself.

Witness A also had personal experience of UFCMs in Chinook Mk1s. In one case over a period of days an aircraft bounced vertically every time it was turned right. Repeated unsuccessful attempts were made to find the cause and the problem eventually disappeared of its own accord. In another case in daylight the lights came on to maximum intensity, dimmed to minimum and the hydraulic gauges cycled between zero and maximum. The pilot reported that the aircraft was becoming difficult to control and Witness A ordered him to land at the first available opportunity. The subsequent engineering investigation found no fault.

In answer to a question as to how much the unforeseen malfunctions occurring in the Chinook Mk2 since its introduction were a matter of discussion among helicopter pilots, he answered,

“They occupied our minds to a great degree, crew room talk was of little else at the time. The crews felt extremely uneasy about the way the aircraft had been introduced into service. This perception was reinforced by the lack of information contained in the aircrew manual, the poor state of repair of the flight reference cards and such like as well”

The full report can be read here.

In all these years the MOD have maintained the line that the crash was caused by the gross negligence of the pilots when there is no evidence whatsoever to support that line, and plenty of evidence to suggest a failure on the aircraft may have been the cause.

The MOD in this matter have displayed every aberrant behaviour that has earned it the contempt of the public, but Day and Wratten plumbed new depths in blaming two hapless pilots in order to deflect criticism from the MOD.

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