Chinook pilot’s father says there’s nothing new in safety findings

A Norfolk man whose pilot son has been blamed for the RAF's worst peacetime disaster said yesterday there was 'nothing new' in documents which have been unearthed about the safety of Chinook helicopters.

Newly-discovered Ministry of Defence papers show that the RAF set up a Chinook Airworthiness Review Team because of 'management and maintenance' concerns about the fleet in 1992.

That was two years before a Chinook – piloted by Flt Lts Jonathan Tapper and Richard Cook – crashed over the Mull of Kintyre in Scotland killing all 25 people on board.

An initial RAF investigation found the pilots were guilty of 'gross negligence' for flying too fast and too low when the craft came down in thick fog.

Campaigners, including 30-year-old Flt Lt Tapper's father, Mike, who lives at Burnham Thorpe, near Wells, insist that faults with the Mark 2 helicopter caused the crash, but the MOD maintains that the helicopter was airworthy.

Three subsequent inquiries have been inconclusive, but Lord Alexander Philip is heading up a fresh review into the cause of the crash and is due to report to the defence secretary in the summer.

As well as the RAF report in 1995, a Fatal Accident Inquiry was held in 1996.

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In 2000, the House of Commons Defence Committee also investigated, as did the House of Lords in 2001.

It is understood the previously undisclosed report, unearthed from the House of Commons library, was not considered in the four previous inquiries.

But Mr Tapper said the documents added nothing new.

'We have known for years that the RAF chose to ignore concerns about the Chinook Mark 2 because it wanted to maintain capability,' he said. 'The inquiry has already got evidence along the same lines.'

Mr Tapper has spent years trying to clear his son's name and is looking forward to hearing the results of the latest inquiry. 'Hopefully it will clear it up once and for all,' he added.

The RAF set up the airworthiness review team, led by a wing commander engineer, because of concerns about 'overall management and maintenance' of the Chinook fleet, the papers show. It said five accidents over six years, and 'serious incidents' including uncommanded flying control movements 'brought into question' the fleet's effectiveness.

These include an incident in February 1987 when a Chinook 'pitched nose down from about 300ft (91m) and impacted the ground, killing the occupants'.

The report concerns the Mark 1 model of the aircraft, but says the issue also concern 'the future HC Mark 2 version'.

An MOD spokesman said it would be 'inappropriate' to comment with Lord Philip's review continuing.

daisy.wallage@archant.co.uk