07/12/2007

Chinook Crash Case To Be Re-examined

The one single event that caused the heaviest loss among Northern Ireland's intelligence community is to be re-examined.

It wasn't the IRA or other terrorist organisation that killed the four special forces crew and 25 senior members of Northern Ireland's intelligence community - military and RUC officers included – but a since controversial helicopter crash.

The Chinook helicopter – carrying the elite of the Province's security personnel - crashed into a hillside while flying from RAF Aldergrove, near Belfast, to Fort George, near Inverness. The personnel aboard were on their way to attend a high level security conference on terrorist intentions during a then ongoing deadly campaign.

The cause of the crash on the Mull of Kintyre in 1994 in which 29 people died is to be re-examined, and former NIO Minister – now Defence Secretary, Des Browne, is behind the review after campaigners uncovered evidence which they said could posthumously clear the pilots.

The RAF inquiry accused Flt Lts Jonathan Tapper and Richard Cook of "gross negligence".

However, campaigners maintain there were serious flaws in the Chinook helicopter and will meet Mr Browne next month.

The crash, 13 years ago, was the RAF's worst peacetime accident.

Flt Lt Tapper, 30, from Burnham Thorpe, Norfolk, and Flt Lt Cook, 28, from Church Crookham, Hampshire, were initially cleared of blame by an RAF board of inquiry.

It ruled it was impossible to establish the exact cause of the crash.

A fatal accident inquiry reached the same conclusion.

However, that conclusion was overturned by two senior RAF officers - Air Vice-Marshal John Day and Air Chief Marshal Sir William Wratten.

They said the pilots were guilty of gross negligence for flying too fast and too low in thick fog.

Their families, military experts, and some former cabinet and defence ministers have fought to overturn the verdict.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has refused to change its mind - despite the findings of a cross-party committee of peers who found that the pilots could not be blamed.

Now, Defence Secretary Des Browne is due to meet campaigners next month and will review the whole case.

A spokeswoman for the MoD said: "The secretary of state for defence has agreed to meet Lord Martin O'Neill to receive a new report that the Mull of Kintyre group has compiled into the tragic loss of Chinook XD576 and to consider its contents."

There have been a series of allegations about the aircraft itself.

Questions were asked about the reliability of the onboard Full Authority Digital Engine Control computer system.

There were also warnings that the rotors sped up and slowed down for no reason and suggestions that the controls may have jammed.

(BMcC)

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