MoD sent men to die in ‘unsafe’ helicopter

Discussion in 'Current Affairs, News and Analysis' started by Semper_Flexibilis, Oct 31, 2009.

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  1. ANother week, another cover up…

    From The Sunday Times
    November 1, 2009
    MoD sent men to die in ‘unsafe’ helicopter

    Michael Smith

    The overruling of aircraft safety warnings by the Ministry of Defence resulted in the deaths of six British servicemen in a helicopter crash, a senior official has revealed.

    He also alleged that documents were withheld from the board of inquiry and the inquest to cover up the way in which airworthiness regulations were ignored. The former civil servant said he had refused to declare the Royal Navy’s Sea King Mk7 helicopters airworthy, but was overruled by superiors trying to save money.

    He said that two years before two Sea Kings collided off Iraq in 2003, killing six Royal Navy officers and one American serviceman, he issued warnings about the risks. Anti-collision lights on Sea Kings had been replaced with strobe lights that “blinded the pilots at low level, over water or in mist — so they switched them off”. Consequently, the pilots lost sight of each other before the fatal collision, and became disorientated. A board of inquiry blamed the crash on several factors and ordered removal of the strobe lights.

    Last night the mother of Marc Lawrence, 26, one of the Royal Navy officers killed, accused the MoD of a “whitewash”. Ann Lawrence said: “The inquest was a case of people forgetting where they were and losing key papers. It was a joke.”

    The civil servant was moved to speak out in the wake of last week’s damning report which exposed the lax safety culture that led to an RAF Nimrod exploding over Afghanistan in 2006, killing 14 servicemen. The new disclosures add to the pressure on the MoD about the quality of equipment being provided to British servicemen.

    Yesterday it emerged that Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Thorneloe, the most senior British officer to have died in Afghanistan, had warned his superiors that helicopter operations there were “not fit for purpose”.
  2. Go to the Military Aircrew forum of PPRuNe, and read the posts by tucumseh. They will shock you.
  3. Ah yes Tucumseh, the man who was disciplined for refusing to ignore airworthiness regulations. Bet they wish they'd listened to him now.

    Mick Smith has form for his dogged pursuit of single issues. This article could indicate that Sunday Times has decided to take on another shocking example of MoD refusal to comply with airworthiness regulations. One family in particular were treated shoddily by RN/MoD. But this case is unusual, in that the BoI openly refers to airworthiness concerns which the coroner, inexplicably appears to have largely ignored.

    What a terrible week for the MoD. TA, Nimrod, Puma, further damaging claims about the lack of helos in Afghanistan and now this.

    What the fcuk is going on in the puzzle palace?

  4. The wheels really do seem to be coming off, don't they?
  5. Well this is today's Sunday Times editorial. Could have written it myself, agree with every word. MoD will probably react as they always do, by battening down the hatches and ignoring their shocking incompetence.

    The Defence Ministry needs a good cull

    The faulty air refuelling system that caused the deaths of 14 servicemen over Afghanistan three years ago was cobbled together during the Falklands war in 1982 to enable Nimrod aircraft to make the long journey to the south Atlantic. It was an example of what the military do best: solving a tricky problem under huge pressure. Tragically, it was also a symptom of what the military do worst: cutting corners. That the refuelling system was still in use — if in a slightly modified but lethal form — a quarter of a century later was a direct result of the inability of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to learn the art of cost cutting.

    It is possible to reduce costs in a large organisation and make it leaner and more effective, but the process must be implemented shrewdly. In a military organisation, cuts can be fatal unless properly thought through. No doubt, within the upper reaches of the armed forces, there are bright men and women with the skill to do this. It is lamentable then, as the devastating report by Charles Haddon-Cave QC into the Nimrod disaster made plain last week, that cost-cutting was in the hands of senior officers who would have been at home with a Stalinist five-year plan. Orders were received and ruthlessly implemented. Promotions were awarded for objectives “achieved”. Calamitous consequences, such as keeping in use a dangerous air refuelling system, were covered up. The defence industry connived at this fairy tale in exchange for buckets of cash. Warnings of disaster were ignored.

    It gives this newspaper no pleasure to note that it led the way in uncovering the truth behind the Nimrod scandal. Michael Smith, our defence correspondent, revealed that a year before Nimrod XV230’s starboard fuel tank exploded west of Kandahar, a senior officer had warned about the danger inherent in these obsolescent surveillance aircraft. The MoD insisted they were airworthy — and the RAF, under pressure to provide information to British troops, increased flights over the Afghan battle zone with fatal results.

    The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have exposed both the limitations of British military strength and the callousness of the MoD. The Nimrod is one symptom among many others, including the scandal, which we report today, of the Royal Navy’s Sea Kings. Two of these helicopters collided after the MoD overruled warnings that they were unsafe. In America, President Barack Obama ponders endlessly over his military options. Britain, with its burden of government debt, has only one choice: it must find the money to protect its security but ensure this is spent with the utmost prudence. A cull of fools and knaves in the MoD is the clear place to start.
  6. My bold.

    Why do you think that? I doubt that they give a toss - except for potential damage to career paths. For them, the main exercise at this stage is backside coverage. So we can now expect full rearguard action. As to the matter itself? Well, it'll be someone else's problem, won't it?

    As to the Coroner's omission - is it so 'inexplicable'?
  7. Unsworth I made that comment because I know the person behind the article and I know where this is heading.

    A more detailed version of the article;

    November 1, 2009
    Warnings ignored before helicopters crashed

    Michael Smith and Steven Swinford

    IT was 4.25am on March 22, 2003 when two Royal Navy Sea King Mk 7 helicopters prepared to make a routine handover as they patrolled the Gulf off the al-Faw peninsula in southern Iraq.

    Weather conditions were good and both pilots had thousands of hours of flying experience. Yet 30 seconds later the two aircraft collided, erupting into flames before the debris fell into the sea. All seven men on board — six Royal Navy lieutenants and one US serviceman — were killed.

    The cause of the collision has remained a mystery. In January 2007 the coroner recorded verdicts of accidental death.

    For the families the lack of answers has been agonising. Ann Lawrence, whose son Marc was an observer on one of the crews, said: “The suggestion at the inquest was that two experienced crews had seen each other, then flown into each other. They seemed to be implying that they were responsible for their own deaths.”

    Now a former senior civil servant has come forward to reveal one of the main reasons for the crash: Ministry of Defence (MoD) cutbacks.

    Safety considerations were ignored because of the pressure that fixing problems would put on restricted budgets, he said.

    Both helicopters had their anti-collision lights replaced by strobe lights that interfered with the pilots’ vision. As a result they were turned off at the time of the collision, leaving the two pilots unable to see each other.

    According to the official, the MoD and ministers repeatedly ignored his warnings that the lighting was not fit for purpose prior to the incident.

    The official, one of the key witnesses in the Nimrod review that last week heavily criticised the MoD’s safety culture, warned against the installation of the strobe lights in 2000. The MoD’s airworthiness team asked him to sign off the lights as safe because they had been fitted to previous versions of the Sea King. He refused and ordered the suspension of plans to remove the existing anti-collision lights.

    He said: “The airworthiness regulations hadn’t been followed, the modification had not been appraised by Westland [the manufacturer] and the design faults had not been corrected; nor, crucially, could they provide evidence of trials — so I refused to allow the lights to be fitted.”

    Later that year the official went to hospital for heart surgery. In his absence, his superiors overruled him. “When I returned to work, in January 2001, the first thing Westland told me was I’d been overruled and the crap high-intensity strobe light design had been installed. I complained bitterly to my boss.”

    In letters passed to ministers by his MP, the official warned repeatedly that the MoD was ignoring airworthiness regulations because of budgetary constraints. He described how he argued that the use of the strobe lights should be suspended until they had been thoroughly tested.

    He said: “Not only was I ignored, an instruction was issued to stop work which would have resulted in Westland authorising a corrected design. Given the crash was in March 2003, there was no time whatsoever in the programme to correct these problems.”

    Pilots soon found it was impossible to see with the lights on if they were flying low over water or in mist or driving rain, so they switched them off.

    The board of inquiry into the loss of the two Sea Kings blamed factors including the inability of pilots to see each other because of the lack of anti-collision lights. It found the strobe lights “not fit for purpose” and ordered their immediate removal from other Sea Kings.

    The official said that key documents relating to the lack of airworthiness of the Sea King Mk 7s was “selectively culled” and kept back from the board of inquiry and the inquest.

    The families of those killed in the incident are now demanding a public apology from the MoD. Lawrence said: “It was cost-cutting, pure and simple. The MoD is sending boys out to war with aircraft that both they and ministers know are unfit to fly. This ultimately cost my son his life.

    “This has been a whitewash all along ... I go through my days from sadness to tears. It does not get any easier.

    “I want the truth and I want the Ministry of Defence to admit it was at fault.”
  8. I worked with some of the crews and remember well the morning the news broke of the crash. This was an enormous tragedy and it is infuriating if it was knowingly preventable.

    I hope this is investigated to the fullest extent, in the same way that the Nimrod loss has been investigated. It might be something the Iraq Inquiry could look at in further detail - Haddon-Cave has certainly set the bar high for independent inquiries.

    Responsible ministers, procurement officials, senior commanders and defence contractors are hopefully feeling the pressure over this. They shame those who strove to get the job done with the often-inadequate resources given to them, especially those who lost their lives or were wounded.
  9. It is a very good idea to raise this as part of the Iraq War Inquiry. What amazes me, is that in order to save money RN didn't want an NVG capability, but this mission took place at night with the boat on combat lighting and the helo strobes turned off. It is no different to the Hercules disaster and the Nimrod explosion. These very senior officers are dangerous fools, selfish career men with blood on their hands.

    It makes my blood boil. I want to see them in a court room, to explain their disgraceful decisions.
  10. About a decade's worth of chickens comming home to roost....
  11. Agree entirely. Was on the ground during the period of this incident. The points raised in this article (well done Mick Smith) are (IMHO) an example of a fatally flawed solution" being made worse by the operating conditions at the time. Was frankly amazed (but understood) the formations in which airframes were going over the top of us. Outisde of the desparate issues surrounding each of these incidents, are we learning the operational lessons of flying a war that we are simply not safe to - whatever the risk?
  12. My bold

    I fully concur - although I'd prefer to see them convicted of Manslaughter and banged up. Somehow I doubt we'll get to that point. After all, have we not seen this sort of thing so many times before? I was appalled at Stirrup's evasions this morning - but not in the least surprised. At what point in their relentless climb up the CoC do these despicable animals lose all sense of right and wrong?
  13. Never! :roll:
  14. There is a very real chance of this going to a charge of corporate manslaughter. I don't want to reveal too much or get too far ahead, but I have a personal interest in Hercules, Nimrod and Sea King, Haddon-Cave's report was gold dust for those wanting to press ahead with criminal charges.

    Literally, watch this space.

    It is my personal view that the only way to achieve a change in culture in the puzzle palace is to secure a criminal prosecution. I have seen the evidence regarding the Sea King collision, it is both compelling and appalling. It reveals the desperately sad state of UKAF safety management.
  15. Yes, I'm slightly aware of your personal interest. My pessimistic view is that the prospect of securing what amounts to a criminal conviction against these organisations is remote. But let's assume for the purposes of debate that a guilty verdict is found, what happens then? Those who may be found to be negligent (or whatever) will by then have long gone. I'm not convinced that such a culture would be changed by a single court action anyway.

    I also believe that it takes a certain type of person to rise to the dizzy heights - and I doubt that will change. What many people would wish to see is a return to the old-fashioned concepts of decency, honour, integrity etc. I do not think that a legal process can impose these things as they are, simply, part of individual characters. Nonetheless, a court action - successful or not - would put a shot across the bows of some of these scum.

    Even now, I can visualise the Court Steps press statements. 'Lessons will be...', 'have already taken action', 'no-one to blame - system at fault', 'moved on' etc etc ad infinitum.