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Chinook Mull of Kintyre crash pilots exonerated after 17 years

Questions remain about software

Two pilots blamed for the 1994 Chinook helicopter crash on the Mull of Kintyre, which killed 25 of the UK's most senior intelligence experts and four Special Forces crew, were exonerated today after a 17-year campaign.

An independent inquiry, led by Lord Philip, reversed an official finding that Flight Lieutenants Richard Cook and Jonathan Tapper were guilty of gross negligence. Philip did not apportion blame for the accident, but campaigners, including ComputwerworldUK.com blogger Tony Collins, have for many years highlighted problems with the aircraft's FADEC (Full Authority Engine Control Software) System.

The Philip report was commissioned by the government last year and the findings are a huge relief for the families of Flight Lieutenants Richard Cook and Jonathan Tapper.

In a statement to accompany his report, Philip said, "Since 1995 the Department (Ministry of Defence) have rebuffed all public and private representations that the finding should be reconsidered. We find it regrettable that the Department should have taken such an intransigent stance on the basis of an inadequate understanding of the RAF's own Regulations in a matter which involved the reputation of men who died on active service."

A number of documents, made public by Collins, have shown that since the 1995 official verdict, which blamed the pilots that the MoD and RAF were aware of potentially dangerous problems with software installed on that type of helicopter.

One of the concealed documents, written on the day of the crash, contained a warning by IT experts and airworthiness assessors at MoD Boscombe Down that the Chinook Mk2 should not be in the air.

The 1993 review of the software by EDS-SCICON, had found 486 anomalies after examining only 18 per cent of the software code. But after the crash, some MoD officials had told ministers that the type of Chinook that crashed, the Mk2, was so designed that if FADEC failed, competent pilots would still have been in a position to land the helicopter safely.

Professor Peter Watson, who represented the family of Flt Lt Richard Cook, told the BBC that the findings of the inquiry reflects what the initial RAF investigation found - "namely, that there was no basis to hold the pilots negligent.

"The version of the Chinook which crashed had been newly introduced to service and had suffered many technical problems. Indeed, the RAF themselves pursued claims for compensation arising from faults.

"Those who ordered a finding of gross negligence have now been shown to have acted wrongly. They need to explain their conduct which has caused such hurt to the families and damaged the reputation of two fine pilots."

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