Page last updated at 14:08 GMT, Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Coroner in plea over RAF safety

Sgt Mark McLaren (left) and Colour Sgt Mark Powell
Sgt Mark McLaren and Clr Sgt Mark Powell died north of Baghdad

Safety improvements should be made to the RAF's Puma helicopter fleet after two servicemen were crushed in a botched landing, a coroner said.

Clr Sgt Mark Powell, 37, from Porthcawl in South Wales and Sgt Mark McLaren, 27, from Ashington in Northumberland died in Iraq in April 2007.

Coroner David Masters recommended fitting safer harnesses, censory equipment and accident data recorders.

He recorded separate narrative verdicts at the inquest at Trowbridge Town Hall.

Mr Masters said he would report to armed forces minister Bob Ainsworth with five recommendations.

The five-day inquest previously heard the aircraft's rotor blades clashed with those of another Puma as it landed near Taji on 15 April 2007.

Clr Sgt Powell, of the Parachute Regiment and RAF Sgt McLaren, were "flung" from the helicopter and found dead underneath the aircraft.

Clr Sgt Powell died of multiple injuries, and Sgt McLaren of traumatic asphyxia, a Home Office pathologist found.

The inquest heard Sgt McLaren was fastened in with a harness which had to be repeatedly adjusted to allow him to move.

CORONER'S RECOMMENDATIONS
Improved safety harnesses
Consider putting grab handles in cabin doors
Training on judging distances
Fitting black box recorders
Cockpit voice recorders always on

An improved belt, designed before the collision, is yet to be installed, the inquest heard.

Mr Masters said: "I'm concerned by the time it has taken for the modification to be put into service, and I shall recommend that the modified pigtail harness is installed without delay.

The coroner said he would recommend rotary crews are "instructed" to judge distances between aircraft fuselages.

He said he would also recommend "consideration" be given to installing grab handles in cabin doors, which had been removed from the Puma fleet to make way for a new machine gun.

An RAF Puma
Coroner David Masters made five safety recommendations for the Puma

Finally, he said he would recommend cockpit voice recorders are always enabled, after hearing on this occasion it was not.

Mr Masters said the Puma fleet should also have accident data recorders fitted, commonly known as black boxes.

Clr Sgt Powell and Sgt McLaren were on a mission as part of a five Puma task force when they came into land in dark, cloudy conditions.

Each was carrying between 12 and 16 troops.

The lead helicopter - Puma One - overshot the intended landing site and was forced to hover backwards some 50m (164ft).

Puma Two, in which Clr Sgt Powell and Sgt McLaren were travelling, came into trouble after it too reversed and attempted to land alongside Puma One.

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