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Wednesday, 8 March, 2000, 18:11 GMT
Fresh doubts over Chinook crash
Chinook crash site
All 29 on board the helicopter were killed
A leaked RAF memo reveals for the first time safety worries surrounding software used in the type of Chinook helicopter which crashed killing all 29 on board.

The note is believed to have been written by a senior RAF officer just a few days after the 1994 accident in which many of Northern Ireland's top anti-terrorist experts were killed.

It states that the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment (A&AEE) at Boscombe Down had halted flight trials on the Chinook MK2 type "because of their concerns about the safety of the Full Authority Digital Engine Control (Fadec) System".

Ban introduced

But the ban, introduced the day before the crash, did not affect operational aircraft.

The fresh concerns come in the wake of senior civil servants being quizzed about the aircraft's software by members of the Public Accounts Committee.

Full details of the memo will be published in Thursday's edition of Computer Weekly.

If Fadec were ever to be implicated it might show that the A&AEE's concern was justified all along

Karl Schneider, Computer Weekly editor
The magazine concludes that the note, dated 6 June, 1994, adds weight to the argument that new Chinooks fitted with Fadec were brought into service too quickly.

But the Ministry of Defence has always denied problems surrounding the software, which controls fuel to the Chinook's two engines.

And since the crash, the it has consistently disparaged Boscombe Down saying it tested the Fadec system using its "preferred method" of "static code analysis" which was more applicable to the nuclear rather than the defence industry.

However, Computer Weekly says the static code analysis is part of the MoD's accepted standard for testing software supplied to it.

Michael Tapper
Michael Tapper: Father of one of the pilots
An RAF board of inquiry into the tragedy on the Mull of Kintyre blamed the two pilots - Flight Lieutenants Jonathan Tapper, 28, and Richard Cook, 30.

The passengers on board the Chinook included senior army officers and members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary's elite special branch along with Northern Ireland Office officials and members of MI5.

All were heading for a conference on Northern Ireland security which was due to take place in an army base at Fort George, Inverness.

Campaigners - including the families of the two pilots - believe that this latest evidence will put further pressure on the MoD for a fresh look at the cause of the crash.

'Prove cause of crash'

The cross bench peer Lord Chalfont also raised the matter in the House of Lords on Wednesday afternoon.

He said ministers should prove what caused the crash - if they could not they should remove all blame from the pilots.

Commenting on the revelations, the editor of Computer Weekly, Karl Schneider, said: "All this leaves one wondering whether there is an inherent conflict of interest in asking the MoD or the RAF to act as independent judges of whether Boscombe Down was right in its concerns about Fadec and whether the Fadec software was a contributor to the crash.

"If Fadec were ever to be implicated it might show that the A&AEE's concern was justified all along.

"It might also show that the hierarchies of the RAF and the MoD were wrong to approve the MK2 despite Boscombe Down's concerns."

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See also:

08 Mar 00 |  Scotland
MPs probe Chinook crash
07 Jun 99 |  UK Politics
'Pilot error' finding repeated
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