By Tony Collins
As the BBC reports, memorial services are to be held in Northern Ireland and Scotland today to mark the 20th anniversary of an RAF air crash in which 29 people died.
Security personnel from the Royal Ulster Constabulary, MI5 and the Army died, alongside the four crew. Chinook ZD576 crashed on the Mull of Kintyre on 2 June 1994.
The following year two air marshals found the pilots of ZD576, Flight Lieutenants Jonathan Tapper and Rick Cook, grossly negligent. The finding astonished the families of the pilots and many others, including RAF pilots, because of the lack of evidence of what was happening in the cockpit, or with the aircraft, as it approached the Mull of Kintyre.
The aircraft was not fitted with a flight data or cockpit voice recorder, and much of it was destroyed by fire.
Even so the MoD and successive Labour ministers, including the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, supported the finding of negligence.
A 17-year campaign to clear the names of the pilots brought to light documents that called into question the airworthiness of the Chinook Mk2, the aircraft type that crashed. A particular concern was the poor quality of newly-fitted “Fadec” software that controlled fuel to the Chinook two jet engines.
As new leaks of documents cast further doubt over the airworthiness of the aircraft type, the MoD and its ministers appeared to become more resolute in their criticism of the pilots.
In blaming them the MoD and RAF hierarchy placed reliance on evidence provided by the aircraft’s manufacturers, including the supplier of Chinook ZD576’s “TANS” navigation computer.
It wasn’t until 2011 that the finding of gross negligence was set aside by the then Defence Secretary Liam Fox. He apologised to the families of the pilots.
Questions remain about whether the aircraft type was fit to fly and whether it was right for the MoD and RAF hierarchy to have placed so much reliance on the uncorroborated evidence of manufacturers in blaming the pilots.
The MoD told the BBC:
“Exhaustive investigations have been carried out, both by the MoD and independent bodies, and no evidence of technical or mechanical failure were identified.”
[There was little independent evidence of anything – either actions by the pilots, or what was happening with the aircraft.]
Two memorial services will be held today to mark the anniversary – one at Police Service Northern Ireland headquarters in Belfast and another on the Mull of Kintyre.
An MoD spokesman said: “Our thoughts remain with the families of all those who died in the tragic Mull of Kintyre incident.”
Set the record straight on Chinook crash – Guardian letters
A new book has been published about the campaign to clear the Chinook ZD576 pilots. “Their Greatest Disgrace” is written by David Hill, a long-time campaigner and retired MoD engineer, and is available in paperback and e-book from Amazon.
It is well written and easily digestible, with the inevitable detailed technical issues confined to one chapter, which can be skipped without losing the thread. This thoughtfulness for the reader is matched by his description of the forensic investigation that uncovered deceit and dissembling at the heart of MoD, revealing that the aircraft was not airworthy on the day of the crash, but senior RAF officers had knowingly made a false declaration that it was. This denied crew and passengers the opportunity to make an informed decision as to whether or not to fly in her.
As an integral part of the story, it also explains why MoD is in such dire financial straits, detailing the deliberate waste of money that led to the “savings at the expense of safety” reported by Mr Haddon-Cave QC in his Nimrod Review.