Tories repeat commitment to review Chinook crash findings

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The House of Commons held a short debate yesterday on the notorious, fatal crash of Chinook ZD576 on the Mull of Kintyre in June 1994.

During the debate, the Shadow Defence Minister, Gerald Howarth, said that an incoming Conservative government will, if elected, review the RAF's decision to blame the helicopter's two pilots.  

The Commons debate came after new disclosures about the poor state of the Chinook Mk2's  "Fadec" engine control software.

The Chinook's manufacturer Boeing had categorised the newly-developed Fadec software as safety-critical. IT specialists at the MoD, Boscombe Down, were so concerned about the software that they wanted it re-written before they would recommend that the system was safe.

One internal MoD memo said the Fadec software had a "positively dangerous" flaw. Despite this concern, and without any major change to the Fadec software, the RAF cleared the Chinook Mk2 for flight in late 1993.

Subsequently, there were 15 Chinook incidents within 1258 flying hours, all of which involved the Fadec. In some of the incidents Chinook Mk2 engines were damaged .

Within weeks of a spate of "serious" Fadec-related incidents, a Chinook Mk2 crashed on the Mull of Kintyre, killing all 29 on board including 25 senior police and intelligence officers.

In yesterday's debate on the crash, Conservative MP Henry Bellingham asked the Defence Minister Bill Rammell whether he would meet representatives of the families of personnel killed in the Mull of Kintyre Chinook helicopter crash to discuss identified computer software failings.

Rammell replied: "I will meet representatives of the families of those who were tragically killed in 1994, to explain why there is no new evidence to lead the Ministry of Defence to revisit the board of inquiry's findings."

[It's unlikely the families would wish to meet Rammell when he has made up his mind to blame the pilots]

Bellingham: "As the Minister knows, I represent the family of one of the deceased pilots, Flight Lieutenant Jonathan Tapper. Obviously, the family are still very distressed indeed about the finding of gross professional negligence against their brave son.

"Will the Minister confirm that, since the crash, there has been a change in the rules governing the attribution of blame, so that deceased pilots cannot now be found guilty of gross negligence?

"Surely it is only fair and just that the two Chinook pilots who were killed - Flight Lieutenants Cook and Tapper - should benefit from that change of rule?"

Rammell: "I reiterate that I am willing to meet representatives of the family. The change in the rules governing inquiries was brought about by this Government in July 1997, but it was made abundantly clear at that stage that that would not be retrospective and that it would not affect previous rulings."

The former Conservative defence minister James Arbuthnot asked: "As both pilots were found grossly negligent, how does the Minister know with absolutely no doubt whatever that both pilots agreed with the route and the course of action being taken?"

Rammell: "Let me make it clear  ... that in all the publicity surrounding this case - and certainly that produced by the BBC in recent weeks - there has never been any evidence of technical failure.

"The clear reality of the situation, demonstrated by a clear and diligent analysis, was that the pilots flew their aircraft at low level and high speed towards rising ground and in poor weather, which was contrary to the flight safety instructions. It is for that reason that the board of inquiry reached the conclusion it did."

To this, Gerald Howarth said:

 "Surely the fact that the board of inquiry itself did not entirely rule out the possibility of some kind of technical failure, together with public unease at the verdict of gross negligence on pilots and the number of calls for a review from all sides of the House, militates in favour of having such a review. If this Government will not hold such a review, let me tell the Minister that an incoming Conservative Government will."

Rammell: "I remind the hon. Gentleman that it was the previous Conservative Government who accepted the board of inquiry's findings in the first instance. This is a very sensitive issue and I fully understand the concerns of all the families that have lost their loved ones, but I do not think that we should play politics with this issue. The substance of the case is that absolutely no evidence of a technical failure has been produced that would lead to a different conclusion from that of the board of inquiry."

Links:

Chinook debate 12 January 2010 - House of Commons website

Tories commit to Chinook crash review - ComputerWeekly.com

The campaign for justice for the pilots of Chinook ZD576 - campaign website

Chinook helicopter disaster - software failure error or pilot error? - ComputerWeekly.com

Web publication of "Macdonald" report on crash of Chinook ZD576 - IT Projects Blog

Royal Aeronautical Society fellows doubt safety of Chinook Fadec software - IT Projects Blog

Chinook software had "positively dangerous" flaw - IT Projects Blog

Chinook crash: critical internal memo on software flaws - IT Projects Blog

We publish new evidence of Chinook Mk2 computer problems - IT Projects Blog


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