Page last updated at 09:56 GMT, Wednesday, 1 October 2008 10:56 UK

Hercules risk 'was widely known'

Hercules C130k
The inquest was adjourned in April after three weeks of evidence

Military chiefs knew that RAF Hercules planes needed a vital safety feature fitted, but failed to act until after a fatal crash, an inquest has heard.

Ten men died in Iraq in 2005 when the fuel tank of their Hercules exploded.

Earlier, their inquest heard about fears that the fleet was not fitted with explosive-suppressant foam, but it was unclear how widely this was known.

Now the Wiltshire coroner has confirmed that, among others, figures at RAF Strike Command did know of the problem.

Fitting the foam prevents fuel tanks exploding if they are hit by enemy fire.

'Tactical vulnerability'

Nine RAF servicemen and a soldier died in the Hercules C130 crash, which happened between Baghdad and nearby Balad.

Before their inquest was adjourned in April, it heard conflicting evidence about whether anyone outside of RAF Lyneham, Wiltshire, where the plane was based, knew of the need to fit explosive-suppressant foam (ESF).

But when the hearing reopened on Tuesday at Trowbridge Town Hall, coroner David Masters said two military reports unearthed over the summer removed any confusion.

The first was a review, published in January 2002 by the MoD's Tactical Analysis Team (TAT), recommending the move to enhance safety.

It said: "The most vulnerable area of the plane would be the fuel tanks in the wings. A potential solution to reduce risk is to retro-fit all C130 aircraft with dynamic foam for the wing fuel tanks."

Mr Masters said the distribution list for the report included figures at RAF Strike Command, the Air Warfare Centre at RAF Waddington and Permanent Joint Headquarters at Northwood, and the British tri-service headquarters, from which all overseas military operations are overseen.

A second TAT report, published on March 2003, said the 2002 ESF recommendations still applied.

After the fatal crash, the MoD pledged to fit all RAF Hercules with the foam at a cost of up to 600,000 per plane.

'Black hole'

Mr Masters said: "What is established is that there was no specific programme in place for the retro-fitting of ESF as of January 2005 and that retro-fitting has now only come about after the loss of Hercules XV179.

"There currently remains a black hole between the making of the TAT recommendations in January 2002 and what action was or was not taken in relation to them."

Those on board the stricken plane were:

  • RAF 47 Squadron's Flt Lt David Stead, 35, the pilot
  • Flt Lt Andrew Smith, 25, the co-pilot
  • Master Engineer Gary Nicholson, 42
  • Flt Sgt Mark Gibson, 34
  • Australian airman Flt Lt Paul Pardoel, 35, a navigator
  • Chief technician Richard Brown, 40, an avionics specialist
  • Sgt Robert O'Connor, 38, an engineering technician
  • Acting L/Cpl Steven Jones, 25, of Fareham, Hampshire, a Royal Signals soldier
  • Sqn Ldr Patrick Marshall, 39, from Strike Command Headquarters, RAF High Wycombe
  • Corporal David Williams, 37, a survival equipment fitter.

Correction: An earlier version of this story, based on information from a news agency, wrongly reported that the Ministry of Defence High Command knew about the safety problem.

RAF pilot's warning 'not heeded'
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02 Apr 08 |  Wiltshire
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31 Mar 08 |  Wiltshire
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