Page last updated at 12:55 GMT, Tuesday, 6 October 2009 13:55 UK

Crash squadron a 'sloppy outfit'

Flt Lt David Sale, Sgt Phillip Burfoot and Pte Sean Tait
Three men were killed in the helicopter crash near Catterick

A coroner has branded an RAF squadron "a sloppy outfit" at an inquest into the deaths of three men in a helicopter crash during a training exercise.

Geoff Fell said there was no evidence of any documentation to show the crew of the doomed RAF Puma were "properly ratified" to fly the aircraft.

Flt Lt David Sale, Sgt Phillip Burfoot and Pte Sean Tait died in the crash in North Yorkshire in August 2007.

The helicopter crew was based at RAF Benson in Oxfordshire.

Twelve military personnel were on board the aircraft which crashed during a training flight near Catterick Garrison.

Mr Fell was trying to establish if Flt Lt Robert Hamilton, who was left paraplegic as a result of the injuries he suffered, and Flt Lt Paul Carlon, who had taken part in earlier exercises, were deemed to be qualified to take part.

I'm not prepared to sit here and see these families denied the right to find out what has happened to their kids
Geoff Fell, coroner

Mr Fell said: "There is no paperwork to suggest or indicate that Hamilton and Carlon were LCR [limited combat-ready].

"There is no document to show this crew were properly ratified.

"This is a sloppy outfit. I can't put it any other way.

"I'm not prepared to sit here and see these families denied the right to find out what has happened to their kids," he said.

Mr Fell made his comments during a discussion with Oliver Sanders, who is representing the Ministry of Defence (MoD) at the inquest.

Mr Sanders interrupted the questioning of Wing Cdr Jason Appleton, who was second in command at 33 Squadron, at RAF Benson.

He objected to Mr Appleton being asked about a report critical of 33 Squadron which highlighted poor record-keeping and leadership.

Mr Sanders said the questioning went beyond the scope of the inquest and should not be allowed.

Helicopter wreckage
The Puma came from an RAF base in Oxfordshire

The coroner disagreed and Mr Appleton was asked to comment on the report, which found there had been a "loss of focus on routine administration".

Mr Appleton conceded there "had been a problem with some paperwork" but said his squadron had seen "unprecedented operational commitment".

"It is fair to say the eye was taken off the ball," he told the inquest.

On the opening day of the hearing, on Monday, an audio clip was played to Harrogate Magistrates' Court in which the crew were heard laughing and joking moments before the crash.

Sgt Burfoot, 27, from Cardiff, and Flt Lt Sale, 28, from Norton on Teesside, were killed in the crash. They both served with 33 Squadron.

Seventeen-year-old Army recruit Pte Tait died from his injuries two days later.

He was from Castlemilk in Glasgow and had been undergoing training in the Royal Regiment of Scotland Company of the 1st Infantry Training Battalion at the Infantry Training Centre, Catterick.

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