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Lord Gilbert: My Lords, it verges on impertinence for me to say that I agree with every word that has just been said by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig. It was my sad duty five years ago to make my first remarks in your Lordships' House on the subject of Chinook. It happened to be the first matter that came across my desk when I returned to the Ministry of Defence in 1997. I was therefore interested in the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, about Ministers getting sucked into these matters and, from time to time, being faced with inbred ministerial and departmental attitudes and being affected by political considerations. I resent those remarks. I am sure that none of my Conservative predecessors as Ministers was affected by any of those considerations and I am sure that none of my successors who have spoken from the Dispatch Box under this administration has been affected by considerations of that sort. Had I been so affected, it would have been an ideal opportunity for me to demonstrate that I could dissent from my Conservative predecessors. I found myself unable to do so.
With regret, I find it impossible to acquit the two pilots of negligence in this case. I do not wish to go over again any of the things that I have said before in your Lordships' House. There is one point that I ought to make in response to the layman's argument brought up vividly by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, at the end of his remarks. I congratulate the noble Lord on his persistence and courage in bringing this matter once again to your Lordships' attention. I think he was quoting from the last paragraph of the Select Committee report when he asked how one could conceive of two such skilled, able and experienced pilots making such an error. I am afraid it is very easy to conceive of able, experienced people making mistakes. It happens in the air every day. Pilots well know that from time to time, there but for the grace of God go they. Luckily, they make their mistakes in non-life-threatening circumstances.
I realise that I speculate. I am not offering this as a solution to what may have happened in the air, but when there are two pilots on a flight deck it is by no means unknown for confusion to arise suddenly as to who is in control. It may take a little time for that to be sorted out. We are led to believe that there might have been an emergency of some sort on the flight deck. I do not say that that is a normal occurrence, but it is
The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, the noble Lord has been saying that certain things are possible or probable. The argument is not about possibility or probability. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, talked about the need for absolute proof with no doubt whatsoever. The moment the Ministersorry, the recently retired Ministersays that the cause could possibly be this or that, he concedes the whole case.
Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I do nothing whatsoever. I have made it absolutely clear that I regard it as inconceivable that there was any other cause. Various kinds of negligence could have been involved in the case that we are discussing. As I was about to say, I think that the Royal Air Force's language is unfortunate. I do not like the term "gross negligence". I think that "negligence" is quite enough without rubbing salt into people's wounds. I believe that the Royal Air Force has probably set itself too high a hurdle with respect to these matters. However, having said that, I repeat that I have absolutely no doubt whatever that the Government are right to reject the Select Committee's report.
Lord Burnham: My Lords, the primary Motion before your Lordships' House is that your Lordships take note of the Select Committee report. That is a serious enough Motion to consider but I find it absolutely extraordinary that we should have an amendment to such a Motion. I believe I am right in saying that that has not occurred for 24 years. Twenty-four years ago the issue concerned a constitutional matter and the amendment was moved by a member of the Select Committee itself. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, will withdraw his amendment at the end of the debate.
The Chinook crash is gathering the mythology associated with the "Birkenhead", the "Titanic" or the "Lusitania". That myth must be arrested and the basic known facts considered. We are looking for the factsfacts that can support the verdict that there was no doubt of the pilots' negligence. Sadly, there are no such doubts, however unlikelyas has been said on a number of occasionsit may seem that two such experienced and responsible pilots should have got themselves into such a position. What happened to other aircraft at other times and in other conditions is irrelevant.
What happened in particular in the case that led to the Ministry of Defence suing Textron Lycoming in 1989, or in the RAF board of inquiry in March 1994, is quite a different matter. The FADEC system in the Boscombe Down incident has nothing to do with the matter when seen against the facts of the flight of ZD576 on that day.
Noble Lords who know the conditions around the Mull of Kintyre from flying or sailing round it know how treacherous and variable they are. Chinook ZD576 was seen by a yachtsman at approximately 300 feet approaching the Mull in clear visibility. What happened thereafter with regard to the visibility is a matter of doubt and it is not clear whether or not the crew had seen the Mull. But they did fly towards the land without deviating from their track.
If the aircraft had "pulled to the bells"; that is, exercised maximum power, on entering cloud 30 seconds before the eventual impact, it would probably have avoided hitting the Mull, whose maximum height is 1,463 feet. Here flight rules are quite clear. On moving from a state where visual flight rules applywhich is where the aircraft was seen by Mr Holbrookinto cloud where instrument flight rules apply, the pilot has two alternatives. He has to climb to the designated safety altitude, which is a height 1,000 feet above any obstacle within five miles of the track. Alternatively, he should turn through 180 degrees and get out of it. That is what should have happened in the conditions of cloud off the Mull, which is, as I say, a notably treacherous place.
The first alternativethat is, to climb to safety altitudemay not have been possible because of restrictions on the use of the anti-icing equipment. Ice can build up on the engine intake surfaces. Before going into potentially icing cloud, the electrically heated rubber mats on the intake blankets should be switched on. It is understood that there was a flight restriction stating that the anti-icing should not be switched on except under operational conditions.
Although the crash took place in June, it is at least possible that there was icing in the cloud. If there was any doubt, the pilot should have turned through 180 degrees and followed his previous track in reverse. The trouble was that they had an ETA to meet and restrictions on their flying hours. The pilots elected to carry on in the belief that they knew where they were.
As we know, there were two pilots. The duty of one is always to fly the aircraft while the other provides lookout and assists with cockpit management. In cloud, everything goes dark and the pilot must look up to find where the top of the cloud is. When the aircraft nears the ground, the cloud turns green. All the indications are that that is what happened. The aircraft increased height from an estimated 468 feet 18 seconds before impact to 810 feet at the point of impact; that is, the rate of climb was 1,140 feet per minute, which represents a steep but not a maximum rate of climb. The aircraft did not at any stage turn.
The whole point is that the pilots should never have got themselves into cloud in the first place. Once they were there, they should have turned or climbed instantly. It is unlikely that they were turning into icing cloud.
In mitigation, it has to be said that the pilots might have been distracted; but that is not an excuse, particularly with two such experienced pilots, together with their crew. There is no reasonable doubt
JSP (or joint service publication) 318, the manual of flying, clearly defines safety altitude and states unambiguously what a pilot must do when he inadvertently enters cloud. He must climb above safety altitude or turn through 180 degrees. The pilots ignored all of that.
It is true that there are a number of questions to be answered. The pilots were navigating by the relatively primitive TANStactical air navigation systemwhich did not at that time have a GPS input. Certainly, the Chinook had no effective radar, which would have enabled the pilots to see their position relative to the Mull. The lighthouse itself was a waypoint, and they must have wanted to overfly it to check their navigation. However, it wasor is presumed to have beenin cloud and they presumably did not see it. I have no knowledge of the quality of their "met" briefing at Aldergrove, which might have defined the extent of the cloud cover.
None of that is any excuse for the pilots' actions. I do not believe that it is quite clear where they were going. Why was their course after the waypoint at the lighthouse considerably to starboard of the track for the next waypoint at Corran? It is not clear why they found it necessary to cut those corners, but there is no doubt that they did. For that reason, the verdict of the air marshals should stand and all the other considerations, although interesting in the context of the Chinook Mk2 in general, have no relevance to the accident. In any case, the argument in favour of the verdict of the air marshals is overwhelming.
Noble Lords are being asked to "take note" of the Select Committee report. I hope that noble Lords will firmly oppose the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, should he choose to press it to a vote, which I hope he will not.
Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, I suppose that I should declare an interest in that 60 years ago or thereabouts I spent six years in the Royal Air Force and have had an abiding affection for that service ever since.
Of course, I have read our Select Committee's report. I was struck by the fact that the members of the committee spent a great deal of time trying to find obscure faults which could be to blame for the accident. I believe that they were perhaps motivated by the introduction of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, and that they were there to protect the pilots' reputations. Some of the evidence was most interesting. Witness A from the Special Forces branch and Squadron Leader Burke were both totally puzzled. They knew about these wonderful, complex aircraft. They could not understand it and went into detail about how such an accident might have occurred.
After reading all the evidence, I asked myself how two experienced pilotsa whole crew who are very dependent on each other with a complex method of controlcame to fly into a hill. The explanation given by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, appears to me to be correct. They failed to take action when they should have done and they thought that their rate of climb would clear the Mull straight ahead. It was a bad and fatal decision. They had flown for 20 minutes without trouble. They could have turned and gone round the coast but they chose to go over the Mull. As I said previously, they made a fatal mistake.
Experienced crews do make fatal mistakes. I remember that that was driven home to me in war time by a story, which I shall tell your Lordships, about a Russian womana great sniper who had killed 150 Germans. In 1942 she came over on a tour of Britain. An experienced squadron leadera regular officer who had done a tour of operationstook up a Stirling bomber and "shot up the aerodrome", as we called it, to demonstrate. He made the simple, fatal mistake of flying too low. He crashed the aircraft and killed all the crew. The Russian sniper lady burst into tears and had to be taken away because she was so distressed.
Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank: My Lords, all of us recognise just how sad and tragic this case is. But I do not feel that it is anything like as complex as some have portrayed it to be. The noble and gallant Lords, Lord Bramall and Lord Inge, who unfortunately cannot be with us this evening in your Lordships' House, have asked me to say that they agree, and want to be associated with, what I am about to say.
Early in their response to your Lordships' Select Committee report into this sad and tragic accident, the Government reiterated the statement made repeatedly and consistently by the two air marshalsthe officers whose duty it was to review the board of inquiry proceedings. It is that negligence had occurred by the time that the pilots made the waypoint change. If they were in cloud, flight should have been in accordance with instrument flight rules: that is that they should have been at their safety altitude of 2,400 feet. Of course, they were well below that. If they were not in cloud, they had flouted the basic rules of airmanship by flying too fast and too close towards the cloud-covered high ground of the Mull of Kintyre. By definition, if they were flying in such visual conditions, they would have seen what they were doing; they would have known they were mere seconds from the Mull of Kintyre and that by continuing to approach it in that way, they had unnecessarily placed themselves in increasing jeopardy.
In short, the pilots pressed on into the bad weather that they had been warned to expect in the vicinity of rapidly rising, cloud-covered high ground. I believe that it is as simple as that. It is most unfortunate that
In the judgment of the reviewing officers, by flying their aircraft in such a manner, the pilots ignored their pre-eminent duty. They had failed to take care. They had failed to do everything in their power to ensure the safety of their aircraft, passengers and crew. Such a failing in the demanding and unforgiving realm of aviation unquestionably constitutes negligence. Again, in the judgment of the two exceptionally experienced reviewing officers, both of whom I know personally, and whose judgment I have never doubted, that was indeed gross negligence.
Moreover, the evidence rendered such a finding undeniable. There is no evidence to suppose that the pilots were not in control of their aircraft. They possessed the skill and knowledge to adhere to the basic rules of airmanship, but they did not do so. The negligence finding is therefore founded on the fact that they failed to take timely avoiding action on approaching deteriorating weather around the Mull of Kintyre, which they had been warned to expect.
Those who have chosen to reach different conclusions have mounted no convincing argument against this analysis, an analysis repeatedly explained by the reviewing officers. Rather, they have insisted on focusing on any number of what I might call peripheral matters: in particular, the few seconds following waypoint change and immediately before impact20 seconds or so. That is irrelevant in the context of a negligence finding.
Moreover, the hypothetical emergencies that they claim might have arisen during those fleeting moments are implausible when tested against the known facts. In consequence, critics appear to have continuously changed tack. These peripheral matters have included a suggested failure of engine control system, jamming of the flight controls, contamination of hydraulic fluid, computer malfunctions and even a rushed and improper introduction into service of the Chinook Mk2 fleet in general. There is no convincing evidence to support any of those, as the Government's precise response details.
It is sad that some critics of the finding of negligenceI am certainly not referring to your Lordships' Select Committeehave even stooped to attack the motives of the reviewing officers, suggesting a lack of judgment and even a cover-up behind the loss of their aircraft and 29 lives. A cover-up is a particularly shaming suggestion and discredits only those who make it.
The air marshals determined in the direct pursuit of their duty that it was not permissible to avoid a finding of negligence by recourse to a hypothesis for which there was no evidence and which was revealed as wholly implausible when tested against the known facts. In this determination three successive chiefs of air staffthe heads of the Royal Air Forceendorsed their judgment.
This is the honest opinion of experts. Those who admit to being laymen in aviation matters should, I feel, accept it as the right judgment. They might also acknowledge the anguish of the two air marshals who reviewed the case in having to reach the conclusions they did. Their sadness is overshadowed only by the bereavement of the families of those who lost their lives in this disaster.
I am a relative newcomer to your Lordships' House and perhaps more innocent than some of the hardened parliamentarians sitting here. But I should be surprised, and think it unfortunate, if an element of party politics has to come into a case such as this.
The fate of Chinook Zulu Delta 576 is a tragedy for many people. The finding is certainly not, as has been suggested, a manifest injustice. The time has come for this to be recognised. I believe that your Lordships' House should take note of the committee's report.
Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, I voted in favour of the referral of this matter to the Select Committee. I did so because, while I considered that the cause of the crash was the aeroplane being flown at far too low an altitude, there were so many suggestions, hypotheses and different arguments being advanced that I thought it would be appropriate for your Lordships to consider the matter and perhaps to conclude it satisfactorily.
However, I now regret that I voted for the issue to be referred to the Select Committee. I regret it because while I pay tribute to the members of the Select Committee for their devotion to effort and for their immersion in detail, I still believe that the cause of the crash was low altitude and not any of the other suggestions that have proliferated. I received one suggestion the other day; that there may have been a margin of error of 150 feet in the assessment of height. Even if there had been, the aircraft would still have crashed. The lives would still have been lost.
Bearing in mind the fundamental reality of the aircraft being flown too low, the reviewing officers, who are experienced and honourable menand I have met themwere entirely justified in reaching their decision.
One considers the weather. Bearing in mind the information about the weather and the risk of cloud that was given to the pilots before they embarked on their journey, they should have been aware of the conditions that they were likely to encounter en route. Clearly, the aircraft should not have been flown so low. My noble friend Lord Fitt reminded us of this in a previous exchange on the subject. He lives 11 or 12 miles from the Mull in the north of Ireland. He often looks out at the Mull and can see the weather changing dramatically within a 10-minute period. My noble friend agrees with the point that I have just made.
None of the other possible arguments holds water. The fact is that that the aircraft was being flown too low and perhaps too fast. The skill of the pilots is not in doubt; their judgment is. Their skill was revealed by their last-minute attempts to escape from the land that they were rapidly approaching. They did not have the space to move out of danger. But that does not mean that the reviewing officers should have done anything other than their duty. Their duty directed them to make a decision that there was negligence. They have been criticised for being austere.
Perhaps I should declare an interest. I am heavily involved in the Air Training Corps. We have sent quite a few young people from my squadron into training in the past two years. I do not know what they think of the squadron, but I know what I think and what their parents thinkhappily seeing their young people entering a fine career. They want the senior officers in the Air Force to set a priority. If it requires them to be austere, then so be it.
We must bear in mind that people like the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, like Sir William Wratten and the then Chief of the Air Staff, Sir Michael Gray, did most of their flying during the Cold War, when the Air Force had to involve itself in intensive and demanding training. They saw their friends die, and they do not wish to see people die unnecessarily. That is why, today, the Air Force spends enormous sums of money and devotes greater care to safety. It is not just a question of saving lives. The aircraft flown by Members of this House during the Second World Warthe Spitfire, for examplecost about £13,000. Today's aircraft cost more than that figure in millions. Obviously, senior Air Force officers must try to ensure that the culture of safety is properly observed.
That does not mean that we should start casting stones at the two pilots. It does not mean that we cannot share or sense some of the grief that their families, friends and colleagues will have felt; as will the families, friends and colleagues of the distinguished public servants who died as passengers in the crash. At the same time, it does not mean that we should seek to disagree with the responsible decision of Air Chief Marshal Sir William Wratten and Air Chief Marshal Sir John Day that there was negligence. That verdict was justified, and so was the Government's decision clearly to endorse it.
Lord Bowness: My Lords, the findings of the Select Committee, of which I was a member, have been fully set out by our chairman, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Jauncey. I thank him for the way in which he led the Select Committee in what was not an easy task. I also add my thanks to our colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Tombs. He brought his considerable technical expertise to bear on the problem and made it much easier for those of us who are not of a technical turn of mind to understand what had happened.
The Select Committee kept strictly to the remit that it was given by this House; namely, to examine the justification for the findings. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, that we did not set out to find an alternative cause of the accident. I do not think that that is possible. The committee's findings were unanimous.
Perhaps I may take up the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, about the quality of the inquiry and the process. I do so not because it was our remit to comment on that, but because it goes to the root of whyor, at least, it is one of the reasonsthe Select Committee was able to state unanimously that in its view the finding was not justified.
I do not put forward those considerations as a reason for the accident. However, it is reasonable to ask, as did the Select Committee, whether further inquiries were made on those issues. It appears that they were not.
Further questioning of the squadron leader confirmed that the board of inquiry held not only formal interviews, of which the evidence that I have cited formed part, but informal interviews. Witnesses have said that the boards in effect decide what line they want to follow before they take the formal evidence, and then take only the formal evidence that suits them. I would cite all of the evidence, but it is too late at night to do so, so suffice it to say that it is to be found under question 540 on page 6, relating to Squadron Leader Morgan's evidence.
We also heard evidence from witness A, who would have been available, had the board of inquiry chosen to call him. He gave evidence to the fatal accident inquiry. Talking about the problems of the Chinook, he said:
Mr Holbrook, who had a brief interview in the first place, gave evidence to Strathclyde Police that there were trawlers, or a trawler, with a St Andrew's cross on the superstructure. When we asked whether anybody had tried to find the fishermen around at the time who could have given evidence about the weather, we were told that inquiries were made by the RUC in Northern Ireland. It seems somewhat unlikely, given that the Scottish saltire was being flown, that that was the most appropriate place in which to make those inquiries.
The noble Lord, Lord Brennan, referred to the role of the Air Accident Investigation Branch. Its findings have been put forward in support of the air marshals' findings, as were the Boeing simulations. However, it is important that we note the evidence of Mr Smart at question 149 in the published evidence. I quote part of what he said:
In a case of this kind, when the Select Committee finds that such evidence is available and that no further questions have been asked about the issues, it is not unreasonable to suggest that, perhaps, we were not so
Like other noble Lords, I have considerable sympathy with the reviewing officers in the task that they faced. We should not lightly disregard their findings, but they reviewed only the evidence that the board of inquiry actually had. I have no doubt that they made up their minds honestly believing their findings to be correct. Nevertheless, it must be recognised that several bodies, including the fatal accidents inquiries, have come to an opinionmaybe it is just an opiniondifferent from that of the air marshals. I would have hoped that the Government and the Ministry of Defence would have been able, in the circumstances of the Select Committee report and in the light of the points highlighted at paragraph 176 of the report, to accept that there was, in retrospect, a sufficient element of doubt to call into question the correctness of the findings. That would have been recognised as a sign not of weakness but of strength.
Baroness Michie of Gallanach: My Lords, as the former Member of Parliament for Argyll and Bute, I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in the debate considering the report of the Select Committee on the Chinook helicopter crash. The crash occurred on the Mull of Kintyre in my constituency on that fateful day, 2nd June 1994. Although none of those who died was my constituent, I was involved at the very beginning with the local authority and the emergency services. Once again I take the opportunity to pay tribute to them both for their swift and professional response to the catastrophe.
I pursued the matter in another place and took it up personally with the Prime Minister. I did so on behalf of my constituents, who werestill aredeeply concerned, as I am, that a verdict of gross negligence should be passed on the two pilots against a required standard of proof of "absolutely no doubt whatsoever".
I am no legal or technical expert and do not intend to rehearse all the arguments surrounding the disaster. That has already been done by many of your Lordships today. In fact, everybody who has already spoken seems to be an expert.
However, it seems to me, as a mere lay person, that this is now a question of facing up to the truth. The truth is that we do not know and we shall never know the precise cause, or causes, of the crash. That is surely the only honest answer. It remains a matter of grave concern to me that the Ministry of Defence continues to reject, in particular, the conclusions of the fatal accident inquiry conducted in meticulous fashion by the Sheriff, Sir Stephen Young, in Scotland, and, indeed, the conclusions of your Lordships' Select Committee that:
Something you often hear said is that it does not matter what you believe as long as you are sincere. Sincerity is, of course, vitally important, but history is littered with examples of sincerely held beliefs which have subsequently proved to be wrong. I have no doubt that the reviewing officers who carried out their painstaking task sincerely believe that their verdict of gross negligence was right. But they could be wrong. Surely it is impossible to reach such a conclusion which demands a high standard of proof. I respect the expertise of the senior reviewing officers and I understand their need to come up with an explanation, but even they do not know with absolute certainty what happened.
To see if I could draw any parallels or find similarities, I recently reread the reports of another quite appalling tragedy which happened on the west coast of Scotland to compare the conclusions and judgements of the subsequent inquiries. It occurred early on Wednesday, 1st January 1919. The "HMS Iolaire"pronounced Iolaire in Gaelic, meaning "Eagle"sank at the mouth of Stornoway harbour on the Island of Lewis. There were 284 on board. The ship had a crew of 24 and was carrying 260 naval ratings returning home from the Great War.
On that dark night, with squally showers and heavy seas running, the "Iolaire" struck the rocks known as the Beasts of Holm at the entrance to Stornoway harbour. In total, 205 perished, including all the officers and most of the crew. Only 79 people survived. A public inquiry was convened in Stornoway presided over by Sheriff Principal MacIntosh, with a jury of seven. Questions were raised about the failure to alter course and reduce speed at the appropriate time. While there were many criticisms and recommendations and, indeed, a call made by lawyers representing the bereaved relatives for a verdict of gross negligence, because the jury could not know the absolute truth about what had happened, no blame was attached to the officers and crew.
I appreciate that the practices in the three different services may not be the same, but a naval inquiry ruled that there was no evidence properly to explain the reasons for the accident as the ship's log was lost and none of the officers had survived. Consequently, the Admiralty concluded that,
Earlier this year I visited again the site of the Chinook crash where stands the simple monument; a cairn constructed with stones from around the area. The purple heather has grown again hiding most of the scars on the hillside. But it will not hide the scars of the bereaved families. It was a beautiful spring afternoon and the sun glinted on the simple plaque depicting the names of all those who lost their lives on that tragic day. The view across to Rathlin Island was stunning, but within minutes the sun had gone and we were enveloped in mist as a squally shower swiftly came and went.
I promised my former constituents who were there with me that day that I would try again to persuade the Ministry of Defence that in the interests of natural justice the verdict of gross negligence should be set aside and the matter finally laid to rest. I believe that that verdict will eventually be set asideperhaps not by this Government, which is sad. I believe that it will be set aside and I therefore support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont.
Lord Cooke of Islandreagh: My Lords, I intend to speak from a different angle about this tragic accident: from my own knowledge, such as it is. I know the Mull of Kintyre well. I have sailed up and down it many times in different weather conditions. Sometimes it is clear and sometimes there are days similar to the one in question, with cloud formed over the Mull and a considerable amount of wind. I noticed that the wind was turbulent; that the clouds were constantly varying. At one moment one could see; the next moment one could not. The thickness of the clouds also varied. It was very changeable.
When I later saw the position of waypoint A, I was astonished that that was where they intended to fly on a day on which they had been given such a weather forecast. Waypoint A was almost, if not completely, in cloud. There was no business to be there at all. Who, I wondered, set that waypoint. I presume that the pilots set it beforehand. They should, in my view, have set the waypoint a mile or two miles short so that they had time to see conditions on the Mull and to take action to move safely away. As it was, no matter how they performed when they reached waypoint A, they could have had very few seconds before hitting the rock, as they did.
It happens also that I have spent many hours flying as a passenger in helicopters around the coasts of Irelandnorth, south, east and westin order to inspect lighthouses as that was the job of the Commissioners of Irish Lights of which at that time I was chairman. We flew in different conditionswe had toand it was not uncommon for headlands ahead to be covered in cloud. This happened several times, but each time the pilot made his change of course several miles before getting to the cloud in order to be either above it or below it. When he went below it, I noticed that he was able to follow the line of surf, which could be seen because it was startlingly bright, round the edge of the headland. I am glad to say that we never had any problems. The pilots told me that they regarded being in such fog as a disaster because of being unable to judge how thick it was.
That reinforces my view that waypoint A should have been fetched up perhaps two or three miles short so that the pilots had plenty of time to make up their minds whether to fly round the Mull to the north or over the top. In fact, it would have been quite easy to turn to the left and fly round the Mull up the Sound of Jura. I am astonished that they did not do so. In my view, the pilots took an extraordinary risk in flying as close to the Mull as they did. I draw the conclusion that they must have displayed an extraordinary amount of
Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, I should like to say right away that I have the deepest respect for the noble Lords who were the members of the Select Committee under the chairmanship of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Jauncey. But I have also to say that I do not believe that there should have been a Select Committee of your Lordships' House on this issue, and I viewed the decision of the House in April 2001 with deep unease for all the reasons that were well rehearsed then and some of which my noble friend Lord Brennan referred to today. I shall not repeat them here now. I think that a highly undesirable precedent has been set which I sincerely hope will not be one which is followed again. However, the House decided on the Select Committee and we are now taking note of its report.
I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, with great respect, that I find his tabled amendment a highly unusual device to say the least in a debate to take note of a Select Committee report, and I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, said about that. I believe that it would lead this House down a wholly inappropriate and wrong path, so I sincerely hope that the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, is rejected if it is not withdrawn.
As I told the House in July of this year when we heard the Government's response to the Select Committee report, I speak as someone who had a personal interest in this tragic crash, and who has followed in some detail all that has transpired since June 1994.
We owe it to the families of all those affected by this tragic accident to find out what caused this crash. I believe that the only realistic explanation is that found by the reviewing officers, which continues to withstand the most rigorous tests applied to it. The standard of proof is high, but the reviewing officers were convinced that they could be and had been satisfied that the criteria of "absolutely no doubt whatsoever" had been met.
With the greatest respect to the Select Committee, I, unlike the noble Lords who were members of that committee, see no reason to, nor am I prepared to, second guess the two reviewing officers, the two air marshals, who, in addition to all the available expert information at their disposal, had their own considerable professional knowledge and experience of military flying. Evidence from the crash site, from the wreckage and from air traffic control, as well as eye witness testimony, all clearly indicate that this aircraft carried out a fast, low level transit and that the aircraft was under control up to and indeed at the time of the crash.
Air accident investigations are difficult procedures, often having to put together an incomplete jigsaw based on those facts that can be established, and I have to add that it is wrong to suggest that one has to
As I said in July, this is an issue of enormous pain for all the families of the victims of the crash. I want to make crystal clear that nothing I have ever said or ever shall say should imply other than that I have the deepest sympathy with the families of the two pilots, and complete understanding for all their actions. But I put it again to this House as I did in July that the time has come when a line should be drawn and the wounds of bereavement, which have been opened again and again since 1994, for all the families affected should be allowed to start to heal.
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