Chinook pilots may have been unable to slow down, squadron leader tells Lords

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Chinook pilots may have been unable to slow down, squadron leader tells Lords

Tony Collins
The pilots of Chinook ZD576, which crashed in Scotland in 1994, may have been unable to slow down as they approached the Mull of Kintyre, a senior RAF officer told a House of Lords inquiry this week.

Squadron leader David Morgan was speaking to the Lords committee which is considering the possibility that a problem with the Chinook's Fadec computer system, or other malfunction, could have been a factor in the crash of ZD576. The accident killed all 29 people onboard, including 25 senior police and intelligence experts.

The remit of the Lords committee is to consider whether two RAF air marshals were justified in finding the two pilots of ZD576, flight lieutenants Rick Cook and Jonathan Tapper, guilty of gross negligence. RAF rules dictate that deceased aircrew can be found negligent only if there is "absolutely no doubt whatsoever".

The committee was formed after a campaign by Computer Weekly and Channel Four News to show that there are doubts over the cause of the crash, particularly in light of the aircraft's history of serious problems involving its Fadec fuel control system.

On Monday the committee devoted a substantial part of its hearings to the Fadec system. Morgan said the Ministry of Defence's airworthiness and IT specialists at Boscombe Down had been concerned about the Fadec and had required pilots to conduct pre-flight checks on the "overspeed" protection system which was designed to stop the Chinook's jet engines accelerating out of control.

One peer on the committee pointed out that the overspeed protection had not worked in an earlier incident, in 1989, when an engine on an MoD Chinook ran out of control.

Asked why a Chinook pilot approaching the cloud-covered Mull might not have slowed down, and might even have increased his speed, Morgan replied that the pilot might have had full and certain knowledge that he was not heading towards high ground.

He also cited the possibility that there were "other pressures" on the pilot. Asked what those pressures might be, Morgan did not rule out the pilot being "unable to slow down".

He was then asked whether the pilot's inability to slow down could suggest a problem with the aircraft, either the engine or the controls. "If he was unable to, my Lord, yes," he replied.

The Lords Committee is due to publish its findings in January.


tony.collins@rbi.co.uk

An online petition and a downloadable version of the RAF Justice report can be found at www.chinook-justice.org, also see www.cw360.com

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