Page last updated at 23:45 GMT, Monday, 7 March 2005

Crashed Hercules 'not sabotaged'

Hercules aircraft
Ten servicemen died when a Hercules came down in Iraq

Investigators have ruled out sabotage as the cause of a fatal Hercules crash in Iraq but have not discounted the possibility it was shot down.

A Royal Air Force interim report said the cause of the crash, which killed 10 servicemen, was not yet known.

It dismissed several possible causes including a lightning strike, engine fire or a collision.

Investigators were still looking into other possible causes for the 30 January crash, the MoD said.

The crash, 25 miles north-west of Baghdad, killed nine RAF men, eight of them from RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire, and one soldier.

Routine flight

The Hercules had been on what officials said was a routine flight from Baghdad to the US base at Balad.

The crash resulted in the biggest loss of British life in Iraq since military action began there in 2003.

There is a great deal of detailed evidence which is yet to be analysed and a number of lines of inquiry that need further investigation
MoD statement

There had been speculation the plane might have been tampered with or a bomb placed on board, but this has been ruled out by the board of inquiry report.

Also ruled out as possible causes were a bird hitting the plane, the plane hitting a wire or other obstacle, restriction of the plane's flight controls, cargo explosion, aircraft fatigue or the plane making a controlled flight into the ground.

The MoD said the interim findings were supported by the findings of the Air Accident Investigation Branch, which is carrying out an independent inquiry into the crash.

But it said: "There is a great deal of detailed evidence which is yet to be analysed and a number of lines of inquiry that need further investigation."

The families of those who died are being informed of the findings.

Was this some kind of guided missile, a shoulder launched missile of some kind?
Paul Adams

The MoD says it will not comment further on the possible cause of the crash until the inquiry is complete.

But BBC defence correspondent Paul Adams said the "pretty comprehensive" list of possible causes ruled out by investigators left a missile strike as one of the few remaining possibilities.

He said: "I think that is where the investigation is focusing. Was this some kind of guided missile, a shoulder-launched missile of some kind?

"They have been used in Iraq - some helicopters have been brought down using that kind of weapon, or was it a lucky strike by some kind of rocket-propelled grenade or something of that kind?

"The wreckage on the ground was quite widely scattered and the state of it suggested to some people that something pretty catastrophic had happened - if not a mid-air explosion by something on board, then a missile strike of some kind."

The Lyneham crew members killed were Flt Lt David Stead, 35, Flt Lt Andrew Smith, 25, Flt Lt Paul Pardoel, 35, Master Engineer Gary Nicholson, 42, Chief Technician Richard Brown, 40, Flt Sgt Mark Gibson, 34, and Sgt Robert O'Connor, 38. Cpl David Williams, 37, was also from Lyneham and also on board.

The ninth RAF man on board, Sqn Ldr Patrick Marshall, 39, was from Strike Command Headquarters at RAF High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, and a passenger.

Acting L/Cpl Steven Jones, 25, was a soldier serving with the Royal Signals and was serving as a crew member on the Hercules.

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