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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 January 2007, 17:50 GMT
Iraq helicopters 'saw each other'
Royal Navy Sea King Airborne helicopter
The inquest heard that mechanical failure of the Sea Kings was unlikely
An air controller has told how his radar showed two Royal Navy helicopters heading for each other before they crashed at the start of the Iraq war.

Lt Alistair Dale told an inquest that he believed both Sea King pilots had seen each other and he did not "assess" it as a problem.

Later the Cornwall-based helicopters collided and all seven crew died.

The inquest into the 2003 deaths heard there was no evidence the two aircraft had confirmed they had seen each other.

Explosion in sky

The inquest in Oxford is investigating what caused the helicopters to crash as one returned to the Royal Navy flagship HMS Ark Royal and another left on the same mission.

Six of those killed in the incident in the early hours of 22 March 2003 were with 849 Squadron, based at RNAS Culdrose. The seventh victim was a US serviceman.

The two helicopters appeared to be flying straight towards each other but as they had both visualled each other I didn't assess it as a problem
Lt Alistair Dale
Lt Dale said moments after spotting the aircraft on the radar, apparently travelling straight towards each other, he heard a shout from a ship's look-out that there had been an explosion in the sky a few miles away from the ship.

Lt Dale, now Lt Commander, tried to get in touch with his aircraft but received no response.

He said before the crash he had heard one of the helicopters say it had seen the other, and the other reply it had seen the first.

"The two helicopters appeared to be flying straight towards each other but as they had both visualled each other I didn't assess it as a problem," said Lt Dale.

Asked why there was no recorded evidence of it, he said: "I don't believe it was recording my frequency at the time."

He was asked by Richard Benson QC, representing the parents of one of the Sea King crew if he could have done more.

He replied: "Although it looks like they are flying towards each other they can miss each other by a considerable margin and that has happened before."

Lt Philip Green, 30, from Caythorpe, Lincolnshire; Lt Antony King, from Helston, Cornwall; Lt Marc Lawrence, 26, from Westgate-on-Sea, Kent; Lt Philip West, 32, from Budock Water, Cornwall; Lt James Williams, 28, from Falmouth, Cornwall and Lt Andrew Wilson, 36, from Exeter, Devon died alongside a US serviceman.

The inquest earlier heard that mechanical failure of the Sea Kings was unlikely.

The Ministry of Defence quickly ruled out the possibility of enemy action.

The inquest continues.




SEE ALSO
Seven dead in helicopter crash
22 Mar 03 |  England

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