Victory over Chinook crash after 14 years

A brave, independent stand by the Defence Secretary John Hutton and his predecessor Des Browne, against 14 years of obfuscation and immovable arrogance by the Ministry of Defence, has led finally to justice over the notorious crash of a Chinook helicopter in June 1994.

A brave, independent stand by the Defence Secretary John Hutton and his predecessor Des Browne, against 14 years of obfuscation and immovable arrogance by the Ministry of Defence, has led finally to justice over the notorious crash of a Chinook helicopter in June 1994.

Setting aside the findings of gross negligence against the pilots of Chinook ZD576 will be, most likely, the most enduring and historically important decision of their Parliamentary careers.

They have restored the reputations of Flight Lieutenants Rick Cook and Jonathan Tapper. It's a victory for the families and the innumerable people, including individuals peers, MPs, and the media, who have campaigned on their behalf. Computer Weekly received about 400 emails in support of its campaign.

Two air marshals had blamed Cook and Tapper for the crash, finding them grossly negligent. It was a decision made in good faith. But a great deal of evidence has come to light which has since shown the decision to have been incorrect.

RAF and aircraft investigators have not ruled out a technical problem, possibly involving the Chinook's software-controlled engines, in the moments before the crash.

Hutton made it clear he was changing the finding against Rick Cook and Jonathan Tapper at a meeting on 8 December 2008 with legal and Parliamentary representatives of the families of the dead pilots.

It can now be revealed that Hutton's decision to clear the pilots was against the background of striking new evidence - as yet unpublished - which shows, incontrovertibly, that the RAF had received a high-level internal warning that a new FADEC engine control system, of the type fitted to the Chinook which crashed, was an unacceptable risk to safe flight.

That warning was issued by the Procurement Executive of the MoD at Boscombe Down, Salisbury, hours before the crash of Chinook ZD576 on the Mull of Kintyre on 2 June 1994.

The warning raises new questions about why the RAF, knowing the concerns of its safety experts about the aircraft, allowed the Chinook to fly operationally and with 25 VIPs, senior police and intelligence officers, on board. All were killed.

Some of the media coverage on the crash of ZD576 has already revealed that, a day before the crash, trials flying on the Chinook Mark 2 had ceased because of concerns over the unpredictability of the FADEC system. What has not been revealed until now is that the MoD's Procurement Executive was so concerned that it had issued a warning to the RAF that the Chinook Mk2 should not be flown operationally because of the Fadec's unreliability.

Boeing, the manufacturer of the Chinook, had categorised parts of the Fadec as critical to flight safety - though the MoD had claimed that by the Ministry's standards, the Fadec was not safety-critical. The system controlled the flow of fuel to the Chinook's jet engines. In the weeks and months before the crash on the Mull of Kintyre there had been a series of major incidents involving the Fadec. Engines had flamed out - shut down - unexpectedly, or surged.

Boscombe Down's IT experts said a rewrite of the Fadec software was "essential". Despite this, the aircraft was allowed into service - without a rewrite of the software.

An internal report from the MoD's Procurement Executive said: "Since the HC2 [Chinook Mark 2] has been phased into service, a large number of engine related incident signals [incidents] have been generated by a comparatively small fleet of aircraft flying a limited number of hours."

The Rotary Wing Test Squadron at Boscombe Down deemed it "imperative that, in the strongest possible terms, the RAF should be provided with a recommendation to cease Chinook HC2 operations" until there was a clear unequivocal and realistic explanation for the faults, which were mostly related to the Fadec.

Yet on the same day as this warning the RAF and the MoD allowed Chinook ZD576 to take off for an operational flight.

There are many questions about the crash which will never be answered but at least these unhappy uncertainties will no longer be compounded by one of the most serious miscarriages of military injustices since the Dreyfus affair.

Read more on Tony Collins' blog >>

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