RAF pilot 'in deadly game of chicken'

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The Independent Online
A jury watched video film yesterday showing the moment an army private was killed in an alleged game of "chicken" as he was buzzed by a low-flying RAF Hercules aircraft.

The film captured the Hercules XP186 in a low pass over South Cerney military airfield near Cirencester, Glos, in August 1994.

Private Christopher Game, 22, from Poole, Dorset, who was standing on his recovery truck roof, died from multiple injuries when struck by the rear ramp of the transport aircraft flying at 140mph, 12ft to 14ft from the ground.

The four minute video was the last of 21 shown in prosecution evidence in the Bristol Crown Court trial of the Hercules pilot, Squadron Leader Michael Morison, 42.

He denies the manslaughter of Pte Game, a single man.

The private's death on the afternoon of August 4 was captured on the film shot from inside the Hercules.

For some minutes, the aircraft circled woods and fields before coming in over the airfield.

The jury then saw only a blur of movement as the private's body fell from the roof of his truck cab and a piece of the aircraft's lowered rear ramp was seen tumbling to the ground.

Pte Game's divorced mother, Rose, sat in court clutching the hand of a companion as the film was shown.

Junior Crown Counsel Mr Alun Jenkins, QC, slowed down the closing sequences in a jerky frame by frame movement.

Morison watched the video intently from the dock.

The Crown say there was a practice among the Hercules crew, including Morison, to make very low level passes after a completed drop operation.

They say these unauthorised passes had no operational value and were aimed at creating excitement and bravado among the air crew and people on the ground.

Mark Evans QC, for the Crown, said: "It was a game that could be described in some ways as playing chicken."

He maintained that the squadron leader had aimed the aircraft with the intention of passing low and "buzzing" Pte Game and others in the drop zone.

The jury were told the pilot and the private were part of a joint RAF/Army unit involved in testing air-drop equipment and techniques.

Both men were stationed at Brize Norton, Oxfordshire.

Private Game was the driver of a recovery truck fitted with a jib crane. The crane controls were on the roof of his cab.

Mr Evans said for some time previously a practice had developed where inspection runs were made after successful drops.

These runs were becoming lower and lower, the aim being to create excitement from the risk involved. The low passes were a "bit of fun", he said.

The Crown maintained the pilot was criminally negligent because of the risk involved.

"We say it is criminal because the defendant in those circumstances was clearly indifferent to the risk. He, of all people, knew what the risk was but nonetheless went ahead to have a bit of fun."

The prosecution said in some cases aircraft were between 14ft and 28ft from the ground.

On a second pass a number of the men dropped their trousers to expose their bottoms to the aircraft. Mr Evans said the squadron leader was a distinguished pilot with over 2,500 flying hours on Hercules aircraft.

He had served for 20 years, mostly as an operational pilot, and also flew Tornados.

Mr Evans said the jury might hear evidence the pilot's radio altimeter had failed at 70ft in approaching South Cerney.

It was reported defective by the flight engineer and later proved to be operating outside normal tolerances.

But Mr Evans said the altimeter was not crucial to the low pass which depended on the pilot's visual approach.

He told the jury: "It does not explain why he was coming in that low. The prosecution say the question of the radio altimeter is effectively a red herring. It has no bearing on the reason for being so low."