Chinook crash ” cover-up due to huge RAF embarassment”

A former defence secretary and other defence experts at Westminster normally relied on to support the MoD have returned to the fray to repeat their call for the verdict of gross negligence against the pilots of Chinook ZD576 to be overturned. I had a ringside seat to observe the first top level reaction to the crash in June 1994. That day the Prime Minister John Major had come into BBC Westminster to take part in an Election Call phone-in for the European Parliament elections the following week. Looking ashen, he asked to use my office to make phone call and asked if I knew anybody on board. I replied yes, I had met some of them and told him to dial 9 to get out. I remember thinking how odd it was that the PM had to use my phone to communicate. I could only assume that as the BBC Westminster studios are only just round the corner from No 10, his secure comms people hadn’t bothered to come. Hard to imagine that happening today. Malcolm Rifkind, the defence secretary at the time, makes the telling point today that as MoD inquiries now leave gross negligence verdicts to the courts, only bureaucratic stubbornness and lack of ministerial will prevents this one being reopened. Pilot error can’t be ruled out but nor should software failure. From such an establishment man as Rifkind, his reluctant conclusion is compelling, that the RAF are covering up their “ huge embarrassment” by excluding the technical report revealed today. Why do ministers uninvolved at the time tamely go along with this these days? I only guess that as ministers and service chiefs have so many other controversial issues dividing them – equipment shortages including Chinooks in Afghanistan and Nimrod failures in Iraq among them – they prefer to keep this one buried in history. Yet it persistently returns to haunt them. The instinct of the defence establishment to blame those lower down the line when they’re under pressure to deliver was exposed in the Nimrod inquiry and is a deplorable failure to live up to their own command responsibilities.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London

  • Disgraceful behaviour by the RAF/MOD, hopefully legal action will follow against those responsible for obstructing the enquiries into this tragedy.

    Yet again service personnel badly let down.

  • Brian, I don’t think anything should be ruled out when it comes to the ‘peace process’ and the period of ‘clarification’ in the run-up to the ‘cessation’.

    For example, the MOD has not as yet been able to explain the presence of another Chinook in special operations camouflage in north Antrim around the time the doomed Chinook was flying down the Glens of Antrim.

  • redhanded

    An informative piece about the “technical report” excluded by the inquiry.

  • redhanded, any efforts to ‘bury’ this Chinook story are likely to fail.

    IIRC the doomed Chinook had been upgraded in the USA and had only arrived back in the UK about five weeks prior to the crash. It seems to have been a very strange choice of helicopter in which to place so many key intelligence and security personnel. It was also the first time that a Mk2 had operated here and it was brought in just two days before the crash. Those tasked with organising transport had suggested two Pumas but this was overridden one day before the crash.

  • DoctorWho


    You seem to be implying a conspiracy that goes a lot further than the MOD / RAF cover up of negligence. It does have the ingrediernts of a great conspiracy but like all conspiracy theories it only seems to have the drama. Doesn´t it?

  • DoctorWho, I don’t think any options should be ruled out. Why do you opt for cover up of negligence when only a limited investigation was carried out?

  • DoctorWho


    It seems that it was convenient to put the incident down to pilot error, that way the MOd / RAF avoid a scandal and negligence. This latest evidence of computer malfunctions seem to back that up.

    I remember discussing this with a mate a few years ago and I always thought it odd that many of the top intelligence personnel where all on the one helicopter. It doesn´t seem very intelligent.

    If indeed as you imply the conspiracy is more along the lines of murder, what did the peace process have to gain from it? I am asking out of curiosity and with an open mind because something has never felt right to me with this whole episode.

  • DoctorWho, this tragedy happened during a lengthy period when the PRM sought clarification so if there was sabotage it might have been used to convince the PRM sceptics that the peace process was the way forward. Who knows? I certainly don’t but there are a number of loose ends that could be tied up.

    I once had a conversation with someone who worked for a FADEC manufacturer in Arizona(?). She said that if I had a computer and modem attached to my Chinook here through a transducer(?) she could alter the settings from AZ. This opens up the possibility of a FADEC-fitted Mk2 Chinook being ‘flown’ remotely. It also could link in to a remark reported in the Belfast Telegraph by Eric Waugh that some US service personnel were at the crash site looking for something belonging to them.

    It’s the rather curious sequence of events surrounding the flight, including the mystery Chinook, that cause me to question the official explanations.

  • McGrath

    Posted by Nevin on Jan 05, 2010 @ 12:16 AM

    While it’s possible the aircraft was fitted with some kind of (then) new ground following radar or FLIR system, pilots even in todays equipment have an ultimate override of those systems. If such systems were fitted to the aircraft, then questions relating to the training of the pilots arise. Where these guys flying untrained with a new gadget don’t a bit of a dog and pony show?

    Your questions about the “modem” are fairly easy to answer, modems were / are routinely used to transmit telemetric data from aircraft. This data includes a variety of information including pressure readings from transducers and avionics system info etc. But the modem and the data transmission network lack the speed and capacity to receive complicated instructions, especially at the rate required to fly the aircraft remotely.

    Ground following radar and other navagational assists are autonomous systems integrated into the aircraft managed by the pilot. Even the most modern preditor drones do not have full real time remote control, on board systems are far more reliable.

    Still, it seems there was / is a lot of ass covering going on with this incident.

  • Eleanor Bull

    We see this time and time again. If a pilot (and by that I include commercial pilots) manages to get an aircraft down and his passengers safe, he’s a ‘hero’.

    If the pilot dies, the investigation inevitably opts for ‘pilot error’, a convenience that now appears to be routine.

    If I recall, the pilot who brought his plane down on the Hudson didn’t have his contract renewed because his flying record showed that he had ‘lost’ a plane.

    In aviation circles, blaming a dead pilot seems to be the easiest solution to bury any notions that the craft in question (helicopter or fixed wing) wasn’t fit for purpose.

  • An Lorgain

    From day one I’ve thought this a strange ‘accident’. Surely many of those on board would have had reservations about the peace process, not least of all because their jobs may have been on the line.

    [color=green]An Lorgain[/color]

  • DoctorWho

    An Lorgain

    I don´t think members of the intelligence service would´ve been to worried about being made unemployed. I certainly don´t think it was in their best interests to derail the peace process for their own needs.

    There is many unanswered questions although I don´t see any reason to suspect murder. The murder conspiracy is certainly dramatic but can anyone suggest something credible as to why the Chinook may have been deliberately felled.

  • These were experienced pilots; they’d been on that route before. Both Chinooks were flying very low in Northern Ireland. The doomed Chinook merely had to veer about 14 degrees to port but instead it appears to have veered slightly to starboard and climbed fairly rapidly.