Pilots in crash were RAF elite

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The Independent Online
JOHN ARLIDGE

Scotland Correspondent

The pilots of the Chinook helicopter that crashed on the Mull of Kintyre in 1994 killing 25 anti-terrorist officers from Northern Ireland were elite Special Forces crew who were "more safety-conscious than most", a fatal accident inquiry heard yesterday.

Flight Lieutenant Jonathan Tapper, his co-pilot, Flt Lt Richard Cook, and their two navigators were chosen to carry out some of the armed forces' most secret operations because they had "a higher degree of navigational ability than standard crews", the inquiry at Paisley Sheriff Court was told.

Flt Lt Tapper and Flt Lt Cook have been blamed for the RAF's worst helicopter crash. An MoD inquiry, headed by Air Vice-Marshal John Day, said they were "grossly negligent" when they flew through fog near the Scottish coast, ploughing into a 1,400ft mountain.

An RAF pilot who flew training flights with the four crew described them yesterday as "very experienced and very safe". The Special Forces officer, unnamed for security reasons, told the inquiry that the navigators, Master Air Loadmaster Graham Forbes and Sgt Kevin Hardie, were "among the top in their profession."

Lawyers for the pilots' families, who blame mechanical failure and fear they are being made scapegoats, closely questioned the unnamed RAF officer and another man, John Coles, who was based at RAF Aldergrove in Belfast, where the Chinook began its flight.

Mr Coles, who flew the helicopter with the two pilots on the morning of the disaster, told the inquiry the crew had been flying this Chinook Mark II for only two days before the crash. The twin-rotor aircraft arrived in Ulster on 31 May 1994 after a refit carried out in the US by the manufacturer, Boeing. Flt Lt Tapper reported a fault with the satellite navigation system and problems with an engine temperature gauge.

The inquiry continues today.

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