Jets collision warning system 'would have saved lives'

Airmen (from left) Sqd Ldr Samuel Bailey, Flt Lt Hywel Poole and Flt Lt Adam Sanders Image copyright MOD
Image caption Samuel Baily, Hywel Poole and Adam Sanders died in the incident

Air accident investigators have concluded that if an onboard collision warning system had been fitted to the RAF's fleet of Tornados, it would have prevented the jets from crashing off the Caithness coast and saved lives.

The BBC understands the finding is contained in a highly critical report into the July 2012 accident.

It is due to be published on Monday by the Military Aviation Authority (MAA).

The 18-month investigation concluded last year.

The MoD has been under intense pressure to publish the conclusions.

But defence ministers said it would not be made public until the Crown Office had decided whether to hold a fatal accident inquiry.

That is still undecided but the MoD has now confirmed the report will be published.

MAA investigators went to great lengths to simulate the accident which happened over the Moray Firth, including carrying out a radar trace, and believe that a system similar to those fitted to some other aircraft would have prevented the tragedy.

Second anniversary

This week marks the second anniversary of the accident which killed three airmen, based at RAF Lossiemouth.

They were: Flt Lt Hywel Poole, 28, from Bangor; Sqn Ldr Samuel Bailey, 36, from Nottingham; and Flt Lt Adam Sanders, from Lancashire. Sqn Ldr Paul Evans, from RAF Lossiemouth, survived was badly injured.

The 300-page report is particularly critical of the processes within the MoD, which meant that procurement of a collision warning system for the Tornado fleet was repeatedly delayed, deferred and at one point deleted.

Image copyright MOD
Image caption Tornado GR4s are to be fitted with a warning system by the end of 2014

The authors talk of "smoke and mirrors" within the MoD over the potential cost of cancelling the system.

The report describes 19 contributory factors in the mid-air collision occurring and makes more than 50 recommendations - chief among them that the completion and operation of the collision warning system (CWS) should be concluded urgently.

The CWS was finally approved after the crash but is still not due to be fully functional until the end of this year.

Kit recommended

Last year, it emerged that kit designed to prevent mid-air collisions was recommended for the Tornado fleet in the 1990s and identified in 2008 but wasn't approved until months after the accident.

Although the MAA's conclusions focus solely on the 2012 crash, the BBC understands that concluding remarks by the director general of the Military Aviation Authority encourage the MoD to fit warning systems in all RAF fast jets.

There is no such system currently in the Typhoons, which will eventually replace the Tornados and which are now also based at RAF Lossiemouth.

Campaigners fear that because the report is so thorough, the Crown Office may reject calls for a fatal accident inquiry.

The MoD's critics say they are determined to keep the pressure up.

'Terrible indictment'

SNP defence spokesman Angus Robertson MP, whose Moray constituency includes RAF Lossiemouth, said the report was a "terrible indictment" of the way the MoD cared about personnel.

He added: "It is scandalous that the MoD committed to a Tornado collision warning system in 1998, bizarrely cancelled it 12 years later, then changed its mind - but it was all far too late to potentially avert the fatal crash in 2012.

"As in all tragic cases which involve the death and injury of service personnel, our thoughts must be with those directly and indirectly affected.

"It is imperative that all lessons are learnt from the Tornado collision and I know that this has been a top priority for personnel at RAF Lossiemouth.

"It is pressing that there is a fatal accident inquiry."

The MoD said it would not comment until the report had been published.

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