New disclosures will be made shortly on Chinook crash on the Mull of Kintyre in 1994

This month [2 June 2007] marks the anniversary of a notorious crash of a Chinook helicopter on the Mull of Kintyre in Scotland in 1994 – a crash that had many possible causes, including faulty software design, but for which the two dead piloits were blamed .

It’s one the most grievous miscarriages of justice in memory.

Shortly Computer Weekly and this blog will report on the disclosures by a former senior RAF officer who has never given a media interview.


Two air marshals found that Flight Lieutenants Rick Cook and Jonathan Tapper were grossly negligent by crashing Chinook ZD 576, killing all 29 on board including four crew and 25 passengers, who were mostly intelligence and Special Branch officers.

Thirteen years after the crash there are still discussions about it on the Professional Pilots Rumour Network – 137 pages of it. That this thread is still active – the latest posts are dated this month – is due largely to a particularly dogged campaigner Brian Dixon.

Computer Weekly and other newspapers, broadcasters, particularly Channel Four News, have also campaigned against the verdict, as have the families of the dead pilots, prominent MPs and peers, and many others including many professional pilots. Computer Weekly received more than 400 emails in support of the campaign to overturn the finding against the pilots.

But the Ministry of Defence will not set aside the verdict.

Even the Public Accounts Committee called for the reputation of Cook and Tapper to be reinstated. It looked into the crash as part of its investigation into the value for money of the Chinook MK2. One of its conclusions was:

“At entry to Service and the time of the crash of ZD 576 the Chinook Mark 2 fleet was experiencing widespread and repeated faults caused by the Full Authority Digital Engine Control software”.

But why is Computer Weekly still concerned about a helicopter crash 13 years ago?

The RAF’s Board of Inquiry found that problems with the Chinook Mk2’s new and unreliable Full Authority Digital Engine Control [FADEC] system – in which control over the throttle was given to software – could have been a factor in the crash.

Two air marshals accepted the case put by Boeing, the aircraft’s manufacturer, and separate evidence from the suppliers of the engine control software, that there was no evidence of any serious technical malfunction.

The Ministry of Defence assumed that the aircraft’s two FADEC systems, one for each jet engine, were performing to specification – and that the specification was itself sound – largely because the manufacturers said so; and the MoD relied on the reports of manufacturers to draw up a case against the pilots of ZD 576.

Perhaps the manufacturers were right. Perhaps they were not. But the Ministry of Defence told a Scottish inquiry into the accident that evidence provided by the manufacturers was “hard fact”.

When safety-critical software in an aircraft fails, or the plane’s software contains coding or design flaws, and these defects contribute to or cause a major incident, there may be no discernible trace of a software-related deficiency.

Besides, only the manufacturer may understand its system well enough to identify any flaws in its design, coding or testing.

Yet no commercial manufacturer can be expected to implicate itself in a major software-related disaster. So, if software kills or maims people, it is possible and even highly likely that the exact cause of the incident will never be known.

This is especially likely to be the case if the software has failed in no obvious way, as when a coding error has set off a chain of complex events that cannot be replicated after a disaster.

Convention dictates that someone must be blamed for a major accident, perhaps pilots, keyboard clerks or train drivers. In business, the sacrificial lambs could be middle-ranking managers, IT managers, or anyone who cannot prove their innocence.

It should be remembered that manufacturers, in proving their equipment was not at fault after a major incident, may have large resources at their disposal. They may also have the goodwill of the customer, in this case the Ministry of Defence.

Individuals may have minimal resources to defend themselves in any incident investigation: no access to the manufacturer’s commercially sensitive information, none of the manufacturer’s knowledge of how the systems work, and little money for expert reports and advice.

Therefore, the weakest link after a disaster, particularly a major fatal accident, will always be the operators or their managers – especially if they are dead.

That is why the loss of Chinook ZD 576 is so much more than a helicopter crash. To accept the verdict against the pilots is to accept that it is reasonable to blame the operators if the cause of a disaster is not known.

The chief investigator of the crash of ZD 576, Tony Cable of the Air Accidents Investigation Branch, told a House of Lords select committee on 7 November 2001: “Throughout this investigation the evidence was remarkably thin, from my point of view, I must say”.

There were no survivors; the helicopter was not equipped with a cockpit voice recorder or an accident data recorder; there were no eyewitnesses to the crash, and the aircraft was almost destroyed in a post-impact fire.

Since the crash there have been several separate, independent investigations: by an RAF Board of Inquiry’s three-officer investigative team, a Scottish Sheriff Sir Stephen Young, members of the Flight Operations Group of the Royal Aeronautical Society, the Lord Advocate, the Public Accounts Committee and a House of Lords Select Committee.

None of these investigations reached a definite conclusion on the cause of the crash. The only finding that stands, hovever, is the one by two air marshals.

That the accident happened 13 years ago makes the stigmatising of the reputation of the dead pilots no less of an injustice. It’s a subject we’ll be revisiting shortly..

Links:

UK magazine [Computer Weekly] disputes Chinook tragedy cause

MoD denies Chinook crash cover-up

House of Lords report on the crash of Chinook ZD 576

Government response to report of House of Lords committee inquiry in the crash of Chinook ZD 576

Minister accused over Chinook crash – BBC

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You said "Shortly Computer Weekly and this blog will report on the disclosures by a former senior RAF officer who has never given a media interview."

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Is it not true that prior to this accident test pilots at Boscombe Downe refused to fly this type of aircraft.

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Dear Friends of Justice

I have every sympathy with the relatives of the Chinook Crash. As you will see from my own personal experiences, particularly at the Mull of Kintyre, very often the truth is covered over.

Crash of Neptune MR1 (WX545 Mull of Kintyre 1956

Ex F/Sgt Maurice Hamlin, Air Signaler, Flew with 36 Squadron RAF Topcliffe for 3 years, now 83, retired. to Spain

I was a member of F/Lt Findings crew prior to the crash on the Mull of Kyntyre below I give the true facts of why Neptune MR1 (WX545) crashed.

On Wednesday 10 October 1956 Neptune MR1 (WX545) Code ‘C’ from No. 36 Squadron with a crew of Ten (I was the tenth crewman) was on attachment from its base at RAF Topcliffe for a joint anti-submarine exercise at HMS Sea Eagle, Londonderry

On the morning of the 19th October we all attended the main exercise briefing conducted by a high ranking Admiral who was in overall command, it was an exercise to test our defenses against submarine attack, we were the air wing supporting the defending friendly naval forces.

During the briefing the Admiral gave specific instructed to our Squadron that as the flying conditions and viability were so exceptionally poor we were to use intermittent radar to ensure each aircrafts safe position and height clearance from the mountain crags when operating in the inside waters of the treacherous Scottish mountainous coastline. (It was after all a peace time game!

When the Admiral closed the briefing and dismissed us all; our idiot RAF Commanding Officer announced that all aircrew would remain seated for further discussion, when all other personnel had left he countermanded the Admirals orders, saying, “we are going to catch out these Naval types, you will use precision navigation there will be no radar in inshore waters at any time”

Together with our crew and Ft Lt Finding I went along and kitted out for the trip, as I walked up to the aircraft I collapsed and came to in hospital, with a severe dose of flew.

When I awoke next morning I was told that my crew had crashed into the Mull of Kintyre with no survivors, I went berserk got out of bed found the CO and told him he was a bloody murderer, I was threatened with Court Marshal, All of the Squadrons crews refused to fly for 24hours making their opinion of the CO felt.

We were told a D notice stopped all reporting of the reason for the crash.

I became a Pall Bearer for my crew.

My crew was lost through arrogant stupidity but the families were never told the truth.

What happened to our C.O. we heard of no censure.

Crash of RAF Vulcan XA897 at London Airport 1956 when completing the first Non-stop flight from Australia to UK

I draw attention to the Statement of Captain Hunt on the proceedings

SECRET

STATEMENT BY CAPTAIN V.A.M. HUNT F.R.Ae.S. F.I.N.

DIRECTOR OF CONTROL AND NAVIGATION. M.T.C.A.

• OBSERVER AT THE R.A.F. COURT OF INQUIRY

In view of the lack of recent instrument approach practice with any radio or radar aid, the Captain was not justified in making an attempt to land at London Airport in the prevailing circumstances.

The Captain made an error of judgment in setting himself a break off height of three hundred feet and committed a serious breach of flying technique in going below that height.

The co-pilot failed to give early enough warning to the Captain of the aircraft of the proximity of the ground and lack of forward visibility.

The omission of the G.C.A. to warn the pilot that he was going below the glide path failed to prevent the accident and this must therefore be considered as a contributory cause of this disaster.

These conclusions confirm my view that there were faults both in the air and on the ground and it is probable that no one fault by itself would have led to the accident.

V.A.M. HUNT

16/10/56

I strongly believe that if the enquiry had known of the facts below there would have been total condemnation of Air Marshal Sir Harry Broadhurst and no blame to any other party.

I would like to see the record set straight and show that Sir Harry allowed his natural fighting spirit to overcome all common sense and that he countermanded the RAFs own standing flying orders (that a Class A Diversion gives a pilot no leeway to use his discretion- he must obey) Sir Harry in order to attend the reception of distinguished guests and assembled aviation media experts that had gathered at the airport to acclaim his achievement-

.ordered his pilot to disobey.

I base this harsh judgment on the known facts (hidden from the court of enquiry) which I describe below.

Recorded Facts-

On the morning of the Vulcan’s return flight from Australia the weather at Heathrow was atrocious with extremely poor visibility and the RAF Vulcan aircraft was not equipped to use the Civil Instrument Landing Systems installed at Heathrow airport.

The air ministry considered that a Ground Controlled Approach (GCA) system approach was not possible and sent three Class A diversion orders to the Captain, Squadron Leader D.R.Howard, each of which was acknowledged but ignored.

The aircraft attempted a GCA approach, struck the ground about 2,000 feet short of the runway and then applied power to go round again but the initial impact caused some damage and as the aircraft rose back in the air A/M Broadhurst and the pilot Squadron Leader D.R Howard, both ejected from the aircraft and survived, leaving the other four occupants on XA897 (who had no ejection seats) including Howard’s usual co-pilot to there fate..

The aircraft then went over sideways and hit the ground again and broke up in a fire ball. The rear crew died instantly one hopes.

.

Having seen the official photos I and many other aircrews consider the ejection was premature as the aircraft was still climbing, it is only the two pilots reports that state the aircraft was totally unmanageable. Broadhurst say’s he delayed ejecting, tried and failed.

Whilst it was stressed at the time that Sqdn/Ldr Howard was the pilot in control I can think of no mere Sqdn/Ldr who would refuse three Class A Diversion orders; neither was it ever acknowledged that these diversion orders were ever sent.

However, It so happened that I was on rest tour at Bomber Command HQ and I was the senior NCO in charge of the signals unit

I had reported on duty at 08.00 on this fatal day and we were told the weather was totally against a possible landing at London airport and I who was passed the orders to transmit the Class A diversions,

We transmitted the first Class A diversion to Vulcan XA897 at about 10.00 the crew acknowledged receipt but made no effort to carry out the diversion instructions; at about 1300 a further class A diversion order was transmitted, again ignored, lastly just before the aircraft attempted to land a further class A diversion order was sent and again ignored.

When we heard that it had crashed killing the four rear cabin crewmembers whilst the pilots ejected and survived we were all horrified, all of those present loudly condemning Broadhurst for his total lack of thought for his crew.

Immediately we were ordered that no mention of the incident was to be discussed with anyone outside of HQ. I was so incensed that I phoned the newspapers.

This was when I was threatened with a Court Marshal and the media received a D notice disallowing any reporting of the true facts;

However, my description of what factually occurred can be corroborated by one of the radio operators (also an aircrew Sergeant Signaler on a rest tour at the time) who was on duty and sent two of the diversion messages. He is still alive after retiring from a well respected career in civil aviation.

Anyone who thinks that it was S/Ldr Howard who ignored the three Class A diversions is suffering from delusions, the Sqdn Leader was just not strong enough to stand up to the bullying of the AVM to ignore the diversions.

There is no doubt that Broadhurst had had a brilliant war time career and been appropriately decorated for gallantry, but this was not war and the only aim was self agrandesment.

Were they court marshaled for killing their crew? No, Broadhurst was moved from his command and Howard promoted to Wing Commander.

Some three or four years after I had left the RAF and was living in Bolton the Sunday Express printed a double page spread about Broadhurst, making a particular emphasis on how he bravely stayed with the aircraft until the last minute to try and save his crew before ejecting from the aircraft,.

I was so offended that again I wrote to the newspapers but was told this did not match the official version and the D Notice still applied.

I feel the dead men’s relatives should know the truth

I confirm the truth of both the above statements

Maurice R Hamlin, 00 34 96 296 0920

Hamlin@parcticalspain.com

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