Page last updated at 20:54 GMT, Thursday, 16 October 2008 21:54 UK

RAF chief 'sorry' for Iraq deaths

Hercules C130k
The crash was the largest loss of life in a hostile act during the Iraq conflict

The man who led an investigation into the shooting down of an RAF Hercules in Iraq has apologised to the families of the 10 people who died.

Wing Cdr John Reid told an inquest that as a Hercules flight engineer he should have known about the vulnerability of the aircraft.

"I should have known and I genuinely apologise for it," he said.

Hercules XV179 was shot down during a low-level daylight flight between Baghdad and Balad on 30 January 2005.

Wing Cdr Reid paid tribute to the men who were killed, saying they were among the finest in the airforce.

He told the inquest, at Trowbridge town hall, Wiltshire, that modern Hercules crews flew more dangerous missions than in the past.

Enemy fire had hit tanks on XV179 which contained a highly-flammable fuel vapour/air mix, known as ullage, causing it to explode and blow off the right wing.

Highly potent

The weapon used was initially described as small arms. However, Wiltshire coroner David Masters has now allowed it to be described as "a highly potent medium calibre anti-aircraft weapon".

The inquest has heard claims that had the RAF followed a safety recommendation to fit explosion-suppressant foam (ESF) inside wing fuel tanks, those killed might have survived.

But Wing Cdr Reid criticised a campaign launched after the crash which called for the fitting of foam - he said it highlighted the vulnerability of aircraft still in theatre.

As soon as it became clear the board of inquiry was going to recommend retro-fitting of the foam it became a priority, he said.

Earlier, barrister John Cooper, representing families of two of 10 servicemen, told the inquest that Air Command's HQ 2 Group had failed in 2002 to act on the safety recommendation.

Crew protection

Mr Cooper put it to Air Commodore Peter Ollis, who was with 2 Group in 2002, that there was a "culture of ignoring vulnerabilities" at the time.

Air Cmdr Ollis replied: "No there was not. One of the most important areas we consider is the protection of the crews."

However, he agreed that if 2 Group chose not to follow a recommendation, they could put the aircraft into theatre on a "military risk" basis.

Mr Cooper said there had been several recommendations since 1980 that ESF could have mitigated the fuel tank vulnerability and asked why nothing was done about it.

Mr Ollis said: "In this case, it was decided that this was not a priority."

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, of Cleethorpes, North East Lincolnshire, the co-pilot
  • Master Engineer Gary Nicholson, 42, from Hull, East Yorkshire.
  • 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
  • Cpl David Williams, 37, a survival equipment fitter.

The inquest continues.

In pictures: 'Hercules' footage
01 Feb 05 |  In Pictures

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