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Coroner says Royal Air Force Nimrod planes have never been airworthy

May 23, 2008, London -  APR [The Associated Press] By Jill Lawless - A British coroner investigating the deaths of 14 military personnel in a plane crash in Afghanistan says the RAF's entire fleet of Nimrod spy planes should be grounded.


May 23, 2008
By Carey Fredericks

May 23, 2008, London –  APR [The Associated Press] By Jill Lawless – A British coroner investigating the deaths of 14 military personnel in a plane crash in Afghanistan says the RAF's entire fleet of Nimrod spy planes should be grounded.

In fact, coroner Andrew Walker told an inquest into the deaths Friday that the aircraft has never been airworthy from the time it entered service in 1969.

The Nimrod MR2 involved in the crash was on an intelligence-gathering mission when it exploded after an air-to-air refuelling near Kandahar on Sept. 2, 2006. The crash killed 12 crew members, a Royal Marine and an army soldier.

The British government insists the plane is safe.

An official inquiry found last year that the most likely cause of the fire that destroyed the plane was leaking fuel from couplings located inside the same bay as a hot air pipe.

Walker calls that a "fundamental design flaw" that should see the aircraft grounded. The plane that crashed was part of a fleet of 15 aging Nimrods
originally due for retirement a decade ago but which are likely to remain in service until 2011 because of delays in producing a replacement, the Nimrod MR4A.

The loss of 14 servicemen was the British military's biggest loss of life in a single incident since the 1982 Falklands War. "The crew and passengers were not to know that this aircraft, like every other in the Nimrod fleet, was not airworthy,'' Walker said.

British defence officials say the plane, which can fly for up to nine hours without refuelling, is vital to operations in Afghanistan and Iraq where its provides intelligence-gathering, surveillance and communications support for ground troops.

Officials are not obliged to comply with Walk's grounding request and Armed Forces Minister Bob Ainsworth insisted the planes were airworthy.

He apologized to the victims' families but said: “I would like to reassure all those concerned that the chief of the air staff has reaffirmed to me that the Nimrod is airworthy, and that we are dealing with all the issues raised by this incident.''

Under British law, inquests must be held when someone dies unexpectedly, violently or of unknown causes. Walker, assistant deputy coroner for Oxfordshire, has become a thorn in the side of British and U.S. authorities.

Last year, he criticized the U.S. military for failing to co-operate with his inquiry into the death of a British soldier killed by “friendly fire'' in Iraq.

In 2006, he ruled that U.S. forces in Iraq unlawfully killed a British TV journalist, Terry Lloyd, by shooting him in the head as he lay in the back of a makeshift ambulance in the opening days of the war.

Walker did not rule on the cause of death in the Nimrod crash but gave a narrative verdict outlining the circumstances that led to the
deaths.