Safety foam 'could have saved crew of Hercules'

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The shooting down of a Hercules plane with the loss of 10 lives - the biggest single number of British casualties during the Iraq war - may have been prevented if the Government had agreed to an urgent appeal for safety equipment from RAF pilots, it was claimed yesterday.

The aircraft had not been fitted with explosive-suppressant foam devices which the pilots had asked for two years after it was hit by fire from the ground on 30 January 2005.

Hercules aircraft now being sent to Afghanistan have also not been fitted with the safety equipment. A former RAF pilot, Nigel Gilbert, said yesterday: "Last week, we placed the defence ministers on notice of corporate manslaughter [if] they lose more lives on a Hercules aircraft due to lack of protective equipment."

It has emerged that an internal RAF document endorsed the pilots' plea from Iraq. According to one passage: "... all aircraft should be fitted with fire suppressants in fuel tanks".

Mr Gilbert described how he and his colleagues were reduced to putting coils of chain under their aircraft seats to protect them from small-arms fire and depended on sightings of ground fire as the only means of security. "We are really going back almost to the Second World War here. We had absolutely nothing," he said.

Sarah Chapman, whose brother Sgt Bob O'Connor died on the Hercules, said she first heard of the foam at the publication of an inquiry report last December. She said:"I was absolutely devastated.I tried to ask questions at the time, but I was railroaded off. It was like 'Go away, girl'."