Page last updated at 18:21 GMT, Monday, 5 October 2009 19:21 UK

Crew laughed before fatal crash

Flt Lt David Sale, Sgt Phillip Burfoot and Pte Sean Tait
Three men were killed in the helicopter crash near Catterick

An inquest has heard a recording of a helicopter crew laughing and joking moments before a 2007 crash in North Yorkshire in which three of them died.

The clip was played on the opening day of the Harrogate inquest into the deaths of Flt Lt David Sale, Sgt Phillip Burfoot and Pte Sean Tait.

The 12 men on board the Puma aircraft were heard laughing moments before it crashed near Catterick Garrison.

Coroner Geoff Fell raised concerns about the qualifications of the crew.

Flt Lt Sale, 28, of Norton on Teesside, and Sgt Burfoot, 27, from Cardiff, died in the crash in August 2007.

Army recruit Pte Tait, 17, from Castlemilk, Glasgow, died two days later in hospital.

Sgt Burfoot and Flt Lt Sale both served with 33 Squadron, based at RAF Benson in Oxfordshire.

Pte Tait had enlisted a month earlier and had been undergoing training in the Royal Regiment of Scotland Company of the 1st Infantry Training Battalion at the Infantry Training Centre, Catterick.

Nine other people were injured in the crash.

During the cockpit recording, one voice could be heard swearing and there were laughing and whooping noises.

There is a thread running through this that people on the helicopter were doing things they shouldn't have been
Geoff Fell, coroner

At one point the on-board computer was heard to say "low height".

A computer simulation of the final moments of the flight was also played to the court.

One relative left the courtroom as the graphic showed how the helicopter appeared to bank right over a building before crashing into the ground tail-first.

During the inquest, Mr Fell said questions needed to be answered about whether two members of the RAF crew were properly qualified.

The coroner said a report suggested Flt Lt Robert Hamilton, who was injured in the crash, and Flt Lt Paul Carlon, who had taken part in earlier exercises, were not combat ready.

But retired Wing Commander Duncan Trapp said the pair were properly qualified.

He said: "There was no reason why that crew, under the captaincy of Flt Lt Sale, could not and should not have carried out the task safely."

Mr Fell also said reports published after the crash claimed people were sitting on the edge of the helicopter, aircraft equipment was not properly stored, people were not wearing helmets and Sgt Burfoot was not wearing his harness correctly.

He said: "There is a thread running through this that people on the helicopter were doing things they shouldn't have been."

Mr Fell told the inquest that one of the crew members told police there had been an incident on Salisbury Plain a few days before the crash, in which the helicopter came close to two other aircraft and a model aeroplane.

When questioned by the coroner, Mr Trapp said he was not aware of the incident and said such an "air-proxy" was "fairly uncommon".

He said conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan had resulted in a reduction in the number of instructors and their availability.

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