Page last updated at 14:58 GMT, Wednesday, 8 October 2008 15:58 UK

Hercules jury sees blast footage


US Airforce video shows unprotected and protected fuel tanks being shot at

Dramatic footage of how a plane that exploded in Iraq could have been saved with proper equipment has been shown at an inquest into the deaths of its crew.

The Wiltshire inquest has heard that the RAF Hercules C-130K plane was not fitted with explosion-suppressant foam.

The 10 servicemen died in 2005 when their Hercules blew up after its fuel tank was hit by enemy small arms fire.

The foam fills the air-gap in the fuel tanks in the aircraft wings preventing an explosion should the plane be hit.

Nine RAF servicemen and a soldier died in the Hercules C-130K crash, which happened between Baghdad and nearby Balad.

Instant fireball

Patrick Collins, an expert in aircraft vulnerability at the Minstry of Defence's science and technology laboratory, showed the inquest a video showing two sections of fuselage, one containing explosion-suppressant foam (ESF) and one without.

Both were shot with a single round. The section of fuselage without foam exploded instantly into a fireball while the section with foam resulted only in the wing smouldering.

Mr Collins showed the inquest at Trowbridge several methods of suppressing explosions and explained the benefits of foam.

But he said fitting it was labour intensive and expensive. He added the foam had been fitted to other aircraft since the 1960's but there had been problems as the technology was developed.

'Nothing done'

Today many planes are routinely fitted with the foam and hundreds have been successfully retrofitted.

Mr Collins said the foam was extremely good at stopping explosions

The inquest has already been told a high level RAF meeting had recommended the fitting of foam years before the crash but nothing was done.

The loss of XV179 was the largest loss of life in a hostile act during the Iraq conflict and the largest tragedy suffered by the RAF for many years.

The victims based at RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire 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.

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