Crash Chinook carried no black box

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The absence of a pounds 10,000 cockpit voice recorder hindered and prolonged the investigation into the helicopter crash that killed 29 people including Northern Ireland counter-terrorism experts, a crash investigator said yesterday.

A senior Department of Transport inspector, Anthony Cable, told the inquiry into the tragedy that "black box" accident data recorders and cockpit voice recorders commonly yielded "major benefits" in aircraft crash investigations. But the Mark II Chinook helicopter was fitted with neither when it ploughed into the Mull of Kintyre on 2 June 1994. The crash killed 10 high-ranking RUC officers, nine Army intelligence experts, six MI5 experts and the four-man RAF crew.

Mr Cable, of the DoT's Air Accidents Investigation Branch, told the inquiry: "The AAIB recorder section estimates that a CVR [cockpit voice recorder] typically costs $10,000 to $15,000, including the unit and its installation." While it was preferable to have both, a cockpit voice recorder alone could yield much information, and had been used to great effect in several investigations.

Mr Cable, on his third day in the witness box, summarised what he had been able to establish. The doomed machine hit Beinn na Lice, a hill behind the Mull of Kintyre lighthouse, at a height of 810ft, and travelling at about 150 knots at the point of first impact. At the point of impact, it was climbing at a 20 degree angle relative to the horizontal.

Engine and instrument indications all suggested normal operations. Almost all parts of the flight control mechanical systems were retrieved with no evidence of pre-impact failure, although the possibility of a control system jam could not be "positively" ruled out.

Earlier, Mr Cable said a study of the helicopter's navigation computer by the manufacturers, Racal, showed the navigation system was working "perfectly" and the pilots had been using it properly.