Leaked emails show UK RAF were aware of Nimrod problems prior to fatal crash

Friday, October 26, 2007

Leaked emails have revealed that the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force (RAF) were aware of a dangerous problem with fuel leaking from Nimrod MR2 surveillance aircraft long before one exploded in midair during a mission in Kandahar, Afghanistan. All 14 people on board were killed in the crash in September last year.

Graham Knight, father of Sergeant Ben Knight, who died in the accident aged 25, told reporters that he had received internal RAF emails detailing prior concerns about the fuel leak problems on the Nimrod. One email originally sent on December 2, 2005 commented that “XV230 [the tail number of the Nimrod that would go on to crash] has fuel-leak issues which need to be rectified before the aircraft can be deployed.” Another, from February 2006, had the following to say: “The age of the airframe, combined with the aggressive tempo with which we are flying the jets in stark temperature shifts, is contributing to our leak headache.”

Another email later the same month highlighted the serious nature of the problem: “Fuel leaks on the Nimrod MR2 aircraft now pose a significant threat to the force being able to meet commitments and operational tasking.”

The emails were quietly forwarded to Knight, who has gone public with them via Sky News. “I have evidence that a fuel leak caused the crash and the Service was fully aware of the risk months beforehand. I believe the RAF killed my son,” he said.

He said that the emails were all written by senior members of the RAF, adding “there are so many people within the organisation who are not happy with what has been going on.”

“The more I have dug, the deeper the conspiracy gets – essentially, I think the major failures have been down to communication problems.”

A board of inquiry has recently completed deliberating the cause of the accident, with a final report expected in about two weeks time. It is expected by many that the report will find a fuel leak was to blame. The crash was the largest loss of life from any UK service in a single incident since the Falklands war. Although the report will determine the cause of the crash and make recommendations to prevent it’s recurrence, it will not attempt to establish blame for the disaster.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) had previously admitted they were experiencing Nimrod fuel leaks, saying in January that in the six months proceeding there had been no less than 25 fuel leaks in RAF Nimrod aircraft. Nimrods were grounded after the crash, but were subsequently phased back into operation, and are currently back in full service flying regular reconnaissance missions in Afghanistan.

The MoD’s response to these recent allegations was as follows: “RAF Nimrod aircraft are designed and certified to strict airworthiness and safety standards.

“If we didn’t have confidence in the aircraft, we would not continue to fly them.

“Nimrod has a good safety record and remains a potent and respected aircraft.

“The Board of Inquiry to establish the cause of the accident last September is continuing and it would be unhelpful to speculate on the outcome until the board’s findings are published.”

All 12 of the crewmembers on board were from 102 Squadron at RAF Kinloss, Scotland. The loss was so large as in to have an adverse affect on the air base. The other two personnel on board were a marine and a solider.

“An aircraft should not suddenly burst into a ball of flames in mid-air,” Knight commented. He has been conducting his own investigation based on documentation obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. One important document is a recommendation made by BAE Systems in 2004 following a safety audit that concluded that it would be impossible to extinguish a fire on a Nimrod. The recommendation was to install a fire detection system. It was never acted upon.

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