Page last updated at 17:30 GMT, Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Fuel leak blamed for Nimrod crash

Most of the men were based at RAF Kinloss in Scotland

An RAF Nimrod crash in Afghanistan which killed 14 people was probably caused by a mid-air fuel leak, a Ministry of Defence inquiry has found.

Defence Secretary Des Browne and Chief of Air Staff Sir Glenn Torpy both apologised to the families of the victims of the September 2006 crash.

Mr Browne also announced a further safety review, but insisted the Nimrod fleet was still safe to fly.

But the father of one airman said his son died "due to incompetence".

The families met Ministry of Defence officials before Mr Browne spoke in Parliament on Tuesday.

Infographic showing how crash happened
1. Nimrod refuels in mid-air.
2. Possible fuel over-flow from number one tank.
3. Second possible source of leak is pipe couplings behind number seven tank.
4. Leaked fuel contacts hot pipe and ignites.
5. Fire and smoke alarms triggered in bomb bay and underfloor by sensitive wiring.

Graham Knight, father of 25-year-old RAF Sergeant Ben Knight, said: "I feel that 14 men died unnecessarily.

"It was due to incompetence and negligence, and I think this report they've basically held up their hands and said, 'Yes, it was our fault.'"

The Conservatives said troops were "operating at a tempo well in excess of that for which they are resourced".

The accident saw the biggest loss of life among British forces in a single incident since the Falklands War, and was only the fourth Nimrod crash in 36 years of operations.

Announcing to MPs the results of a lengthy Board of Inquiry, Mr Browne said a senior QC would review the arrangements for ensuring the airworthiness and safe operation of the Nimrod MR2.

"My department has taken a number of steps to ensure that a similar accident cannot occur again," Mr Browne told the Commons.

"We are learning the lessons from the accident and have already implemented many of the recommendations of the BOI report."

The recommendations include reviews of the Nimrod's fuel and hot air systems and air-to-air refuelling procedures.


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The BOI report concluded that fuel probably escaped into a bay on the starboard side of aircraft XV230 either because of a leaking fuel coupling or an overflowing fuel tank.

The fuel probably caught fire when it made contact with hot air pipes - through a gap in insulation - which can reach temperatures of 400C.

President of the BOI, Group Captain Nick Sharpe, said there was no information to "positively identify" the cause of the crash, but enough to "probably" determine what happened.

The Nimrod had received 22,000lbs of fuel in an air-to-air refuelling operation on 2 September 2006, but within 90 seconds of completion a fire alarm in the bomb bay and a smoke warning sounded.

The crew initially aimed to land at Kandahar airport, but with the plane on fire and rapidly losing pressure, witnesses reported an explosion within six minutes of the first alarm.

Sir Glenn said the Nimrod Safety Case, a safety document, had identified the same hazard from fuel leaks as the BOI, but had "underestimated" the risk.

As well as the loss of 14 crew, the BOI said just over 6.5m of "public property" was lost.

The report also highlighted a number of factors which could have contributed to the explosion.

These included the age of some of the Nimrod's components, the maintenance of the fleet's fuel and hot air systems and the lack of fire detectors and extinguishers within the area where the fire started.

0913: Nimrod XV230 departs on operational mission
1100: Beginning of air-to-air refuelling with Tristar tanker. No incidents reported
1111:33: Fire alarm in bomb bay and underfloor smoke alarm
1112:26: Aircraft depressurises; crews don oxygen masks
1114: Captain declares mayday, turns towards Kandahar Airport in controlled descent
1115:43: Accident data recorder stops, probably due to power cut
1116:34: Crew acknowledge airport weather report. Last communication with aircraft.
1116:54: Crew on a Harrier aircraft see Nimrod on fire several thousand feet below
1117:39: Harrier pilot sees Nimrod explode. It breaks into four pieces at between 750-1000 ft
Source: Board of Inquiry. Times are GMT.

Mr Browne said: "On behalf of the MoD and the Royal Air Force, I would like to apologise to the House of Commons, and most of all to those who lost their lives, and to their families.

"I am sorry."

Air Chief Marshall Sir Glenn Torpy said the Nimrod's crew "behaved in an exemplary manner during the tragic events".

He said the BOI stated that the crew "were faced with a series of complex and demanding emergencies and acted throughout with calm professionalism, and did everything possible to save their aircraft".

"Their families, friends and colleagues should be very proud of them all."

Mr Knight, 55, said the findings showed the RAF had "betrayed" those who died.

"This proves there was a horrifying catalogue of failures from shoddy maintenance to the use of air-to-air refuelling.

"The Nimrod has an appalling safety record, yet 14 families have been left grieving husbands, sons and fathers for no reason."


The MoD had defended the fleet's safety record against accusations of fuel leaks and questions over cost cutting.

Scottish National Party MP Angus Robertson, whose Moray constituency is home to the Nimrod fleet at RAF Kinloss, said the inquiry confirmed that the crew did everything they could in the circumstances to save the aircraft.

He said: "They were brave professional aviators to the last. This is recognised at RAF Kinloss and the entire service and civilian community in Moray. We pay tribute to them today."

Tory spokesman Gerald Howarth said it was "nothing short of a scandal" that the Nimrod had not been replaced by a newer model four years ago.

"The MoD has received repeated warnings about problems with fuel leaks in the Nimrod but failed to tackle the problem," Mr Howarth said.

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Details of the MoD inquiry

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