Glasgow & West Scotland

Chinook crash pilots were negligent, says ex-RAF chief

The wreckage of RAF Chinook ZD576
Image caption The Chinook helicopter crashed on the Mull of Kintyre on the west coast of Scotland in 1994

A former RAF chief has suggested that two dead pilots cleared of blame for a Chinook accident on the Mull of Kintyre were guilty of negligence.

The Defence Secretary Liam Fox overturned the original ruling and apologised to the pilots' families.

However, Sir Michael Alcock, who was the RAF's chief engineer at the time of the accident, insisted the pilots must have ignored safe flying rules.

He has questioned whether they properly discharged their "duty of care."

In an inquiry carried out after the June 1994 accident in which all 29 on board died, the two pilots, Flt Lts Jonathan Tapper and Richard Cook, were accused of gross negligence.

But a fresh review found they should not have been blamed and the earlier ruling has now been set aside.

In a statement to BBC Scotland, Sir Michael dismissed claims of a cover-up by the Ministry of Defence to hide safety problems and said there was no evidence questioning the state of the aircraft on the night of the crash.

He said the fresh inquiry by Lord Philip concluded wrongly.

He added: "Some have described this verdict as a 'stain on the honour of the RAF', more likely a stain on those who clearly do not understand aviation and hopefully will never be placed in a position to manage safety either."

The retired air chief marshal said that all of the engineering issues affecting the Chinook fleet were "properly managed" and were "well known to those intimately concerned with the aircraft fleet management".

He added: "Moreover, none of these matters had a bearing on the accident to ZD 576, though had there been any concerns you can be assured they would have been brought to the notice of the investigators; there was nothing to hide.

"Does it make any sense at all that the RAF would seek to cover up safety issues and still retain the confidence of its pilots? Not in my experience and certainly not on my watch."

Image caption Flt Lt Cook, left, and Flt Lt Tapper were initially blamed for the crash

Campaigners for the two pilots spent almost two decades trying to overturn the decision to blame them.

They claimed that the Chinook helicopter had suffered many technical problems.

The helicopter was carrying 25 of Britain's most senior intelligence experts - including four special forces crew - from Northern Ireland to a conference in Inverness.

After an RAF board of inquiry found the most probable cause was the selection of the wrong rate of climb, a report by two air marshals - Sir William Wratten and Sir John Day - concluded the pilots were "negligent to a gross degree".

However, a Scottish fatal accident inquiry concluded it was impossible to establish the exact cause of the crash.

Successive defence secretaries resisted pressure to reopen the case, but in May last year, Dr Fox announced he was ordering a review of the evidence.

Retired judge Lord Philip, sitting in private along with a panel of three Scottish politicians, spent nine months reviewing the accident and recommended that the finding of gross negligence should be set aside.

Sir Michael said that as well as believing Lord Philip was wrong, Dr Fox was wrong if he too thought the pilots were not guilty of negligence.

He explained: "I have not seen the precise form of words used by Dr Liam Fox, but if he believes the pilots were not guilty of negligence then I believe he too is wrong.

"However, it appears that the current leadership have got the conclusion they wished for. So be it, but it does not fill me with confidence for other judgements they may have yet to take."

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