A COMBINATION of factors contributed to a mid-air collision which resulted in the deaths of three Tornado aircrew from RAF Lossiemouth, an investigation report has concluded.
Had the two aircraft from the Moray base been fitted with a Collision Warning System (CWS) that would have been a "final safety barrier" which could have alerted both aircraft to their close proximity.
Flight Lieutenant Hywel Poole (28), Squadron Leader Samuel Bailey (36) and Flight Lieutenant Adam Sanders (27) were all killed following the collision in July 2012 over the Moray Firth. A fourth crew member was seriously injured but survived the incident. He was left with no memory of the collision.
The CWS was recommended to the UK Government but its implementation has been delayed for a number of years.
The report by the Military Aviation Authority (MAA) published today says: "It is regrettable that the fitment of the CWS on the Tornado has taken such a difficult and prolonged path and perhaps reflects the lack of priority placed on safety enhancements prior to the Haddon-Cave Review."
That review followed the mid-air explosion of an RAF Kinloss Nimrod over Afghanistan in September 2006 which resulted in the deaths of 14 service personnel. The formal report into that tragedy revealed a number of safety failings in the maintenace of the Nimrod, which was subsequently withdrawn from service after the UK Government decide to axe the Nimrod replacement programme.
The report into the Tornado crash concluded that "this tragic accident was caused when four highly competent and professional aircrew ended up unaware of their proximity to each others’ aircraft in a busy, fast moving situation compounded by poor weather".
The report states that there was much opportunity for the mid-air collision to be prevented through "deconfliction, supervision and lookout, but for a variety of reasons this did not happen".
It added that a potentially significant safeguard of CWS did not exist.
Since 2001 there have been nine mid-air collisions involving UK military aircraft which has resulted in 17 deaths, including three Air Cadets.
It was the 1998 Strategic Defence Review which first initiated a Collision Warning System for the Tornado. However, over the next 14 years the programme was subject to five deferrals, a reprogramming prioritisation, deleted in 2010 and reinstated in 2012 by the then Secretary of State for Defence, however, it has yet to be implemented.
The report adds: "It is assessed that financially driven decisions made by the MoD as far back as 2005 and sometimes based on an inaccuracy or highly abbreviated impact statements, including a lack of safety consideration, resulted in no CWS being fitted at the time of the accident."
It says that decisions will need to be made whether a CWS is fitted to the Typhoon aircraft, which is now based at RAF Lossiemouth, and the F-35B.
"Not fitting a CWS to these aircraft is an unsustainable position," the report adds.
"Flying in the military environment inevitably presents risks that can materialise at any time.
"Tragically, for a number of reasons, including a degree of bad luck, the risk of Tornado mid-air collision was realised on July 3, 2012 with three families losing their loved ones and the RAF losing three of its talented aircrew colleagues."
Moray MP Angus Robertson commented: "This report is extremely distressing for the families involved and damning for the MoD.
"It finds the collision warning system would have prevented this tragic accident – a system which has been tested and recommended for the Tornado for over 20 years. It catalogues unacceptable delays, poor decision making and communication. There is now an overwhelming public interest case for a Fatal Accident Inquiry."