Crash report reveals RAF row over cause of tragedy

CHINOOK INQUIRY: 'Fundamental error' led to deaths of top security experts on mist-covered mountain at Mull of Kintyre


The inquiry into the cause of last year's Chinook helicopter crash on the Mull of Kintyre has exposed sharp differences of opinion within the Royal Air Force, according to the unpublished full report into the incident.

An investigating officer who concluded that the pilots should not be criticised for human failings was overruled by two more senior officers, who accused them of "gross negligence".

The Government yesterday announced it had been regrettably concluded that the helicopter's two pilots had been negligent. The crash, last June, killed 29 officers, removing at a stroke almost the entire top echelon of intelligence personnel in Northern Ireland. In announcing the result of the RAF's investigation into the accident yesterday Malcolm Rifkind, the Secretary of State for Defence, tried to mollify relatives of the victims by saying that they may get more than the pounds 100,000 in compensation they had previously said was the limit laid down by legislation.

But the published conclusion of negligence masks a clash of opinion within the RAF which is clear in the unpublished full report on the incident, a copy of which has been seen by the Independent.

The original board of inquiry, headed by Wing Commander A D Pulford, concluded that although it was likely the craft's pilot, Flight Lieutenant Jonathan Tapper, made an error of judgement in an attempt to climb over the Mull of Kintyre, "it would be incorrect to criticise him for human failings based on the available evidence."

The board reached the same conclusion concerning the co- pilot, Flt Lt Richard Cook, saying that he could not be criticised for failing to identify any errors. R E Wedge, the Group Captain in charge of RAF Odiham, did not dissent from this.

This interpretation was, however, contested by Air Vice-Marshal J R Day, who in commenting on the board's findings said: "Flt Lt Tapper did not exercise appropriate care and judgement. He allowed his aircraft to proceed at both high speed and low level directly towards the Mull, notwithstanding the obvious dangers of such an undertaking.

"I am forced to conclude that he was negligent to a gross degree." He also concluded that Flt Lt Cook should have recognised the dangers and was therefore negligent to a gross degree."

The Air Vice-Marshal's opinion was endorsed by the Air Officer Commanding- in-Chief, who wrote: "Lamentably, all the evidence points towards them having ignored one of the basic tenets of airmanship, which is never to attempt to fly visually below safety altitude unless the weather conditions are unambiguously suitable."

The board was hampered in its investigations by the fact that there were no survivors of the flight, and no black-box flight recorder on board. It concluded that the most probable cause of the accident was the pilot not climbing steeply enough to take the craft over the hills of the Mull of Kintyre.

It judged that several factors could have contributed to the accident, either singly or in combination, but it could not list them in order of priority. They included weather, distraction, spatial disorientation and visual illusion.

The 29 officers included some of the most senior security experts in MI5, the Royal Ulster Constabulary Special Branch and military intelligence. Their loss was particularly poignant in that it came less than three months before the IRA declared its cessation of violence. Perhaps because of the deaths, the move took the authorities by surprise; they had assumed there would be a three-month truce, rather than a full ceasefire.

In the Commons yesterday, Mr Rifkind said international discussions on raising the pounds 100,000 compensation limit would "inform but not necessarily determine" government decisions on compensation. The news brought a qualified welcome from Aidan Canavan, the Belfast solicitor acting for many of the families involved.

Reports of the limit had earlier brought strenuous protests from the widows of some victims, who accused the Government of dishonesty and of "dishonouring our men".

Dr Susan Phoenix, whose husband died, said yesterday: "I think it's very sad that blame has to be apportioned anywhere, and I know we will be supporting all the widows from that flight, no matter who they are."

Anne Magee, also widowed, said: "I've spoken to both the pilots' wives recently, and they understand we realise that everyone is human and mistakes can be made.

"It is such a long and detailed and factual report, I think it will help us to come to terms with the loss."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
peopleMathematician John Nash inspired the film Beautiful Mind
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine