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NEWS IN BRIEF

NEWS IN BRIEF

EUROPE

23 May 08. Nimrod fleet ‘should be grounded’. The entire RAF Nimrod fleet should be grounded, a coroner has urged as he concluded the inquest into the deaths of 14 servicemen in a crash. The fleet had “never been airworthy”, Andrew Walker said, recording narrative verdicts on the deaths. The men died when a reconnaissance plane exploded after air-to-air refuelling in Afghanistan in 2006. The BBC’s Rob Watson said the ruling was “quite extraordinary” and would be embarrassing for the government. “Clearly his judgement creates a huge problem and embarrassment for the Ministry of Defence, which has declared the aircraft safe and which sees the surveillance plane as vital to the mission in Afghanistan,” our defence and security correspondent said. Mr Walker said that it exploding went unnoticed. Mr Walker recorded narrative verdicts on the deaths of the 14 men. In his summing up Mr Walker said in his view the entire Nimrod fleet had “never been airworthy from the first time it was released to
service” nearly 40 years ago. The men could not have known this on the day of the crash, he added. Graham Knight, a relative of one of those who died, agreed the Nimrod had been a risk “since day one” and said no more lives should be put at risk by flying the aircraft. The crash led to the biggest single loss of life suffered by the British military since the Falklands War. An RAF Board of Inquiry (BoI) report into the incident concluded that ageing components and a lack of modern fire suppressants were among the “contributory factors” leading to the accident. It said fuel probably escaped during the refuelling into a bay on the aircraft either because of a leaking fuel coupling or an overflowing fuel tank. After the report was published Defence Secretary Des Browne and Chief of Air Staff Sir Glenn Torpy both apologised to the families of the victims.
HOW THE NIMROD CRASHED
1. Nimrod refuels in mid-air
2. Possible fuel over-flow from number one tank
3. Second possible source of leak is pipe couplings behind number seven tank
4. Leaked fuel contacts hot pipe and ignites
5. Fire and smoke alarms triggered in bomb bay and underfloor by sensitive wiring
Relatives of the victims have voiced their anger over safety issues revealed by the inquiry and inquest, and have made their own investigations into the safety record of the fleet. This week a senior engineer from defence and aerospace firm BAE Systems told the inquest that his predecessors, who made the Nimrod some 40 years ago, failed to fit a fire protection system on a key area of risk on the aircraft. And the firm’s head of airworthiness Tom McMichael said that if the evidence heard was correct, the Nimrod planes had, at the time of the tragedy, been flying in an unairworthy state for 37 years. Following the crash all air-to-air refuelling on the Nimrod fleet was suspended and that suspension remains in force. Twelve of the men who died were from 120 Squadron based at RAF Kinloss in Moray, Scotland. Two other servicemen who were attached to the squadron also died. On Thursday, Mr Walker, Assistant Deputy Coroner for Oxfordshire, said he was considering a number of safety recommendations, including the grounding of the entire Nimrod fleet. But the Ministry of Defence is under no obligation to carry out any of his recommendations.
The 14 men killed were:
Flight Lieutenant Steven Johnson, 38, from Collingham,
Nottinghamshire, Flt Lt Leigh Anthony Mitchelmore, 28, from
Bournemouth, Dorset, Flt Lt Gareth Rodney Nicholas, 40, from
Redruth, Cornwall, Flt Lt Allan James Squires, 39, from
Clatterbridge, Merseyside and Flt Lt Steven Swarbrick, 28, from
Liverpool.
Flight Sergeant Gary Wayne Andrews, 48, from Tankerton, Kent,
Flt Sgt Stephen Beattie, 42, from Dundee,
Flt Sgt Gerard Martin Bell, 48, from Newport, Shropshire,
Flt Sgt Adrian Davies, 49, from Amersham, Buckinghamshire,
Sergeant Benjamin James Knight, 25, from Bridgwater,
Sgt Joh

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