Weather radar 'could have saved Chinook'

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The Independent Online
EVIDENCE emerging yesterday from the fatal Chinook helicopter crash seemed to point increasingly to the role that RAF operational methods may have played in the disaster rather than mechanical or equipment failure.

All 29 crew and passengers, including the cream of police and military counter-IRA intelligence experts, were killed on Thursday night when the aircraft, piloted by an experienced RAF officer, a veteran of the Gulf War, hit the Mull of Kintyre in poor visibility.

Authorities in Campbeltown will decide this week whether to hold a fatal accident inquiry into the crash. A service in memory of the dead will be held today at Machrihanish.

The British Airline Pilots Association's helicopter expert, Captain David Hogg, an experienced North Sea pilot with British International Helicopters, said RAF sources were wrong to say that if 'weather radar' similar to that on civil helicopters had been fitted, it would not have made a difference. As the pilot flew at low level across the sea, it would have given a clear warning that the land mass was coming up. 'The screen shows a two-mile scale, so it would pick up the coastline two miles away.' Other instruments which the Chinook did have, including a satellite navigation system, should have shown the pilot where he was.

Captain Hogg suggested RAF pilots might be less likely than civilian pilots to have their attention drawn to an error by a co-pilot because cockpit discipline was more hierarchical.

A catastrophic failure seemed to be ruled out from the evidence of an eyewitness, and from the debris of the crash.

Dr Mark Holbrook, a physicist of Stewarton, Strathclyde, described seeing the low-flying aircraft from a yacht. He said: 'It was well below the cloud level and visibility was quite good. You could see sunshine glinting off his fuselage.

'Its height was about 100 feet and it was moving quite purposefully, flying in a straight line and not zig-zagging. We thought there might be a military exercise or that it was flying low to have a good look at us and the fishing boats. There was certainly low cloud sticking to the coast but it was not sufficient to cover the lighthouse.'

He estimated that he saw the helicopter some time between 5.30pm and 6pm. The first crash report received by police, from a woman at Mull lighthouse, was at 6.04pm.

The weather in the area cleared yesterday to reveal the Chinook's cockpit, engines, rotor heads and tail ramp about 200 metres from the hilltop.

Last night police reported 'significant progress' in the investigation of the crash, but a spokesman said they were not prepared to reveal what had been established. He said the investigation was 'moving forward'.