New doubts raised on Chinook crash ruling

A former senior officer who helped write rules for RAF accident inquiries has spoken publicly for the first time about his concerns over the cause of a controversial Chinook helicopter crash 14 years ago.

A former senior officer who helped write rules for RAF accident inquiries has spoken publicly for the first time about his concerns over the cause of a controversial Chinook helicopter crash 14 years ago.

The RAF blamed the helicopter pilots for the crash, which killed the aircrew and 25 VIPs, despite concerns over the reliability of the helicopter's engine control software.

But retired air commodore Derek Hine said there was too much evidence of software problems on the type of Chinook that crashed to convince him that the pilots were definitely to blame.

Hine's comments come as the defence secretary Des Browne considers a lengthy file on the circumstances surrounding the crash of Chinook ZD576 on the Mull of Kintyre in June 1994. The dossier contains new evidence which campaigners hope will lead to ministers setting aside the verdict of gross negligence against the pilots, flight lieutenants Rick Cook and Jonathan Tapper.

Computer Weekly has campaigned for the finding of negligence to be set aside and published a 140-page report "How the RAF blamed two dead pilots and covered up problems with the Chinook computer system Fadec (Full Authority Digital Engine Control)".

The crash of Chinook ZD576 killed all on board: four aircrew and 25 senior police and intelligence officers. It has been described as the RAF's worst peacetime accident.

Hine chaired an RAF standing committee in 1982 which established rules for RAF boards of inquiry into accidents. He wrote a rule that dead aircrew should be found negligent only if there is "absolutely no doubt whatsoever".

Now, in his first interview about the crash, Hine has told Computer Weekly that there is too much uncertainty over its cause to meet the standard of proof required by the phrase "absolutely no doubt whatsoever". He said the written verdict of two air marshals against the dead pilots did not at the time include any discussion of the phrase.

He said he has "lost faith in the RAF" because of its decision to find the pilots of ZD576 grossly negligent.

"I cannot believe that the RAF would do that to two pilots. I did not think that even on balance of probability that they were negligent," said Hine.

In November 2000, the Public Accounts Committee found that the RAF's procurement of the software-controlled Fadec for the Chinook Mk2 was flawed.

It also said, "Faults with the Fadec led to doubts as to the reliability and safety of the aircraft at the time and make it very difficult to rule out categorically a technical fault as at least a contributory cause of ZD-576's crash."

Browne's decision on whether to accept the new evidence and set aside the verdict against Cook and Tapper is expected in the next few months.

Chinook crash: lessons for the IT industry >>

RAF Justice report >>

Tony Collins' IT projects blog >>




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