Page last updated at 12:55 GMT, Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Expert's criticism of 'ageing Nimrod'

By Victoria King
BBC News

Former RAF engineer Jimmy Jones
Mr Jones believes lessons must be learned from the Nimrod crash

"My feeling is that these men died in an antiquated aircraft fighting an antiquated war."

That is the view of retired Flt Lt Jimmy Jones - a former RAF engineer - who worked on the Nimrod fleet when it was first introduced 40 years ago.

He even flew on Nimrod XV230 - the aircraft that exploded in 2006 killing 14 people.

Now an independent review has given a damning verdict of the circumstances leading up to that incident - and ruled that it was preventable.

It is a verdict Mr Jones was expecting.

Speaking before Charles Haddon-Cave QC's review was published, he said: "I believe that it will be a hard-hitting report.

"He is not going to pull any punches and he will name people.

"One would like to think that lessons will be learned."

'Deterioration'

Since the crash, Mr Jones has got to know the families of those who died and served as a technical adviser to the legal team representing them at the inquest.

He believes the Nimrod was "fit for purpose" when it was introduced in 1969.

Its main job then was to hunt for enemy submarines in the North Sea, but he feels it has been asked to do too much - and without proper upgrades - in recent years.

"Back then there was no need for air-to-air refuelling, but since they've been employed in the Gulf that has become a day-to-day occurrence," he said.

"I think that's where some of the problems lie.

Top L-R: Flt Sgt Adrian Davies; Flt Lt Leigh Mitchelmore; Flt Lt Gareth Nicholas; Sgt Benjamin Knight; Sgt Gary Quilliam, Flt Lt Steven Swarbrick, Sgt John Langton Bottom L-R: Flt Sgt Stephen Beattie; Flt Lt Allan Squires; Flt Sgt Gary Andrews; Flt Sgt Gerard Bell; Flight Lt Steven Johnson, Marine Joseph Windall, L Cpl Oliver Dicketts.
The three-week inquest proved emotional for the families of those killed

"The fuel seals were being placed under much higher pressures and flow rates than they were designed for.

"I think there was a gradual deterioration of the seals over the years."

So could the crash have been prevented then?

"There are certain things that could have been done to minimise the risk," Mr Jones said. "For example, the hot air pipes that were condemned - they should have been replaced.

"Also, Nimrod 230 was not far from the landing field when the problems happened. If modifications had been made, it could have bought the pilot more time."

Mr Jones cited one system in particular called a supplementary cooling pack, which was condemned but later reintroduced despite concerns.

"I told Haddon-Cave it was criminal to do that," he added.

Financial costs

Mr Jones said the families of the Nimrod victims want "closure" - but he wanted lessons to be learned as well.

"In terms of the accident itself, I hope the report will address the failure to carry out essential modifications at the time when they were needed.

"In my day if an engineer asked for an essential modification to be carried out for flight safety reasons, it was done. Now there are meetings - it gets weighed up in terms of financial costs - that shouldn't happen.

"More generally, I hope it recommends that we change the way we carry out accident investigations.

"At present, the people who carry them out are serving officers. They are qualified, professional people at the job they are required to do - be it pilot or engineer - but they are not trained in accident investigation."

Nimrod
Fourteen people died when Nimrod XV230 exploded in 2006

Mr Jones also worries about the amount of servicing and maintenance that is now contracted out to civilian companies.

"It's probably to do with money - treating it like a business - but you can't do that."

Referring to the particular Nimrod that crashed, he said: "It was on the ground for 14 weeks of servicing by civilian contractors, but when it left it had the same fuel leaks it came in with.

"The reason given was that the fuel system was not covered by that particular servicing company.

"That would never have happened in my day."

Value of life

Finally, Mr Jones had advice to offer to the defence secretary and the prime minster.

"The families have told me about the sort of forms they have to fill to try to get compensation where the MoD is basically trying to assess the value of their husband or son.

"'Did they play golf? What rank would they have ascended to? What were their retirement plans?' - all so they can put a price on them.

"I say to Bob Ainsworth and Gordon Brown, 'Don't make them go through that - you've got to step up and just make them a decent offer'."



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