Page last updated at 13:46 GMT, Wednesday, 2 April 2008 14:46 UK

Hercules safety change not made

Hercules C130K
Ten servicemen died when a Hercules came down in Iraq

A safety modification to RAF Hercules planes that may have prevented the deaths of 10 servicemen in Iraq was not carried out, their inquest has heard.

Their C-130K transporter aircraft was shot down between Baghdad and nearby Balad air base on 30 January 2005.

The plane came down after a fuel tank was hit by enemy gunfire and exploded, blowing one of the wings off.

The plane had not been not fitted with explosive-suppressant foam (ESF) to stop its fuel tanks exploding when hit.

Nine RAF servicemen and a soldier died.

'Not important'

At the time, it was the biggest single loss of life among British forces in the Iraq campaign.

The inquest into the servicemen's deaths, which is being heard at Trowbridge in Wiltshire, was told that the plane had not been fitted with ESF because it was not deemed important enough to install.

American Hercules planes have been fitted with ESF since the 1960s and Australian Hercules planes also have it.

An RAF warrant officer, who was referred to as witness CD, said in a statement read to the court that in the years prior to the Iraq conflict many modifications had been made to RAF Hercules C130 craft.

"But ESF never featured," said CD, who has since died.

"There were always far more important requirements," said his statement, by way of explanation.

ESF operates by filling fuel tanks, which are in the planes wings, to prevent the build-up of a highly-explosive mix of air and fuel vapour.

After the deaths of the servicemen, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) pledged to retrospectively fit all RAF Hercules with ESF at a cost of up to 600,000 per plane.

The MoD estimates that between 20 and 30 of the UK's 44 Hercules have now been fitted.

All RAF Hercules currently flying on operations in Afghanistan and Iraq now have ESF, according to Jonathan Glasson, barrister for the MoD at the inquest.

The victims included eight crew and two passengers.

The crew, who were mainly based at RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire, were:

  • RAF 47 Squadron's Flt Lt David Stead, the pilot, 35
  • Flt Lt Andrew Smith, 25, the co-pilot
  • Master Engineer Gary Nicholson, 42
  • 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.

The passengers were:

  • Sqn Ldr Patrick Marshall, 39, from Strike Command Headquarters, RAF High Wycombe
  • Corporal David Williams, 37, a survival equipment fitter.

Graphic showing how explosive-suppressant foam works
1. Without foam: Explosive mix of fuel vapour and air above liquid fuel ignites easily. Once this ignites, a compression wave pressurises the remaining gas, increasing the explosion.
2. With foam: Foam expands to fill space in tank as fuel level drops. Vapour ignition is confined to the area close to spark, stopping explosion.

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