Highlands & Islands

One of three crewmen killed in jets crash 'feared flying'

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Media captionSamuel Bailey, Hywel Poole and Adam Sanders died in the incident

One of three airmen who died when two RAF Tornado GR4s collided had a fear of flying at medium level, air accident investigators have said.

The weapon systems operator was in the rear seat of a jet with a student pilot when it collided with another aircraft over the Moray Firth in 2012.

A report said the airman's condition did not directly cause the accident, but was probably a factor.

Another factor was the lack of anti-collision equipment on the jets.

In its report, the Military Aviation Authority (MAA) said there was "much opportunity for this mid-air collision to be prevented".

It noted that there was no collision warning system (CWS) on board the Tornado fleet.

A system has been recommended for many years but installation was repeatedly delayed.

The report said it was unfortunate that this "final safety barrier" which would have made the crews aware of their close proximity did not exist.

Image copyright MOD
Image caption The accident involved two Tornado GR4 aircraft

The MAA indentified 17 contributory factors and seven other factors in the accident on 3 July 2012.

Contributory factors included poor weather conditions, "ineffective supervision" at squadron level of the aircraft involved and "shortcomings in the management process".

Another factor was that there had not been a formalised and effective care plan for the weapon systems operator (WSO) with the fear of flying at medium level.

While not named in the report, the WSO is understood to have been Sqn Ldr Samuel Bailey, an experienced instructor who had previously served in Iraq.

He had sought help for his condition, the MAA report said.

In April 2012, the WSO said he had reached a "crisis point" and "could not face flying".

He was diagnosed with a phobic anxiety disorder. The WSO stopped flying for a time, before returning to the cockpit.

The report said on the day of the accident, the jet he was in made a "rushed" descent to low level and this was done in "marginal weather" conditions.

While there was no evidence that the WSO's anxiety affected his decision-making, the report said his decisions were "not commensurate with his recognised experience and professional standing".

  • Between 1979 and 2001 there were 42 separate mid-air collisions involving RAF aircraft.
  • 40 lives were lost and 47 aircraft - including 12 Tornados - destroyed.
  • Since 2001, there have been nine mid-air collisions involving UK military aircraft.
  • Among the 17 people who died in those incident, three were air cadets.

An onboard collision warning system would have helped to prevent the Tornado GR4s from colliding, air accident investigators said.

Equipment designed to help fast jet pilots avoid mid-air collisions was recommended in the late 1990s.

A system with a total cost of £53.46m was approved for installation in October 2012 and a contract for the work was awarded in December that year.

The rollout of the equipment is due to be completed by this year.

The MAA said, at the time its report was written, there was no requirement for the RAF's new Typhoon and F-35B to be fitted with CWS.

The Ministry of Defence said the recommendations contained in the MAA report were being implemented.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The RAF's new F-35B aircraft was not required to be fitted with a CWS, the MAA warned

The crash happened over the Moray Firth, off the coast of Sutherland, near Helmsdale.

The crews were on separate training missions at the time and were headed for a firing range at Tain in Easter Ross when they collided.

Bangor-born Flt Lt Hywel Poole, 28, Sqn Ldr Samuel Bailey, 36, from Nottingham, and Flt Lt Adam Sanders, 27, who grew up in Lancashire, died.

Sqd Ldr Paul Evans, from RAF Lossiemouth, survived but was badly injured.

The MP for Moray, Angus Robertson, said the report was extremely distressing for the families involved, and "damning" for the MoD.

He said: "It finds the collision warning system would have prevented this tragic accident - a system which has been tested and recommended for the Tornado for over 20 years.

"It catalogues unacceptable delays, poor decision making and communication.

"There is now an overwhelming public interest case for a fatal accident inquiry."

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