Calls for helicopter black boxes renewed in Clutha crash report

The wreckage of the Eurocopter being lifted from the Clutha pub in Glasgow following the tragic crash.
The wreckage of the Eurocopter being lifted from the Clutha pub in Glasgow following the tragic crash.
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RENEWED calls for police helicopters to be fitted with flight recording equipment have been made in the official report into the Clutha air tragedy in Glasgow in which 10 people lost their lives.

The long-awaited conclusions of the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) confirmed the helicopter which crashed in to the packed pub did not have a flight recorder.

Following a fatal air ambulance crash in July 1998 the AAIB recommended that the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) should “encourage the development” of lightweight and low-cost flight recorders and “consider” whether they should be used in emergency service helicopters.

Similar statements were made by the AAIB to international aviation regulators following private helicopter crashes in July 2003 and January 2005.

Following the Clutha crash, the AAIB has gone further and recommended that the CAA “requires” all police helicopters to be “equipped with a recording capability that captures data, audio and images in crash survivable memory.”

But new helicopters should only be required to have full black box flight recorders from January 2018, the AAIB added.

Ian O’Prey, whose son Mark was killed in the crash, said: “The AAIB can only make recommendations. What is the point in that?

“They’ve recommended flight data recorders be installed before, but there’s still aircraft flying around without them, so what good has it done?”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon welcomed the long-awaited report’s publication but added: “However, it is deeply disappointing that after two years of investigation the report does not reach a clearer conclusion – indeed in some respects, it seems to raise more questions than it answers.”

A spokesman for the Crown Office, Scotland’s prosecution service said: “The Crown will now conduct further investigations into some of the complex issues raised by the AAIB report. We will endeavour to do this as quickly as possible but these matters are challenging and the necessary expertise is restricted to a small number of specialists.”

Investigators found that two fuel supply switches were off yet the helicopter continued to carry out three surveillance jobs over nearby Lanarkshire rather than land.

The pilot, David Traill, who was attached to Police Scotland’s air support unit, was a highly experienced former RAF and training pilot with more than 5,500 flying hours in helicopters.

The report stated that it remains unclear why the fuel supply switches were in the off position, ultimately leading to both engines cutting out.

It also found that the helicopter’s low fuel warnings were triggered and acknowledged five times during the flight.

The AAIB added that the pilot did not complete the emergency shutdown checklist following the first engine failure. The second engine failed 32 seconds later.

It was not known why a successful autorotation – the landing of a helicopter without power – was not achieved.

Aviation safety expert David Learmount said police forces have not previously used flight recorders because “they are expensive”.

He explained: “It’s just budget. That is all it’s about because they could have put things on board.”

Mr Learmount, who is consulting editor of Flightglobal magazine, said technology has developed which means devices to record flight information can be made small enough to be used on helicopters.

Keith Conradi, AAIB chief inspector, said: “We do not apportion blame in our reports. We have made a series of safety recommendations in this final report...”

Jim Morris, specialist aviation lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, which represents 17 people affected by the crash, said there is a clear a need for flight data recorders on helicopters.

“The AAIB’s findings will now be considered by Police Scotland’s investigation team and the Crown,” said Iain Livingstone, Police Scotland Deputy Chief Constable.