Coroner crticises RAF over Catterick Puma crash

AN RAF pilot who crashed a Puma helicopter near Catterick Garrison, North Yorkshire, killing himself and two passengers did not have the skills to carry out the low-flying manoeuvre he was attempting, a coroner ruled.

Coroner Geoff Fell also criticised the administration of RAF Benson, where the RAF members were based.

Delivering his verdict at Harrogate Magistrates Court, he said: "Against a background of deteriorating administration, airmanship and discipline, the helicopter crashed."

Flight Lieutenant David Sale, 28, of Norton, Teesside, Sergeant Phillip Burfoot, 27, from Cardiff, and Private Sean Tait, 17, of Glasgow, died in the crash in August 2007.

Flight Lt Sale did not have the capabilities to carry out the low level flying manoeuvre which led to the crash, he said.

Before recording narrative verdicts into the deaths of all three men, Mr Fell set out his conclusions of what happened on the day of the crash.

He said the administration at RAF Benson, in Oxfordshire, where the RAF crew was based, "left much to be desired".

Mr Fell said that the crew members in the Puma helicopter on the day of the crash were "inexperienced" and were undertaking their first trip without an instructor watching them.

He added that nobody seemed to have laid out the ground rules to the crew and Flt Lt Sale missed an opportunity to remind himself of what he was authorised to do during the flight.

The coroner said most of the flying on the day of the crash "seems to have taken place at less than 100ft" and added that the tactical manoeuvres were "excessive in number and irregularity".

He said the crew was "oblivious" at times and there was a deterioration in discipline.

Mr Fell said: "One can see that while some of the factors individually might not lead to a hazardous situation, collectively they are almost certainly leading to a mishap."

Returning the verdicts, Mr Fell said: "The pilot of the helicopter was attempting a flying manoeuvre which was beyond his capabilities, or those of the Puma, or a combination of both.

"Against a background of deteriorating administration, airmanship and discipline, the helicopter crashed."

In a statement read to Harrogate Magistrates' Court, Pte Tait's family said: "All his family are still devastated at his untimely and early death.We feel it is not an accident having listened to all the evidence of the last three weeks and we hope that lessons have been learnt."

Sgt Burfoot's family paid tribute to the "bravery" of the ministry personnel who rushed to the aid of the dead and injured following the crash. The family said they had shown "complete disregard for their own safety".

They said Mr Burfoot lived life to the full.

Mr Sale's family thanked the coroner for his handling of the inquest and thanked the police and the RAF for their support.

They said Mr Sale had "loved his job" and was "determined to be very professional at it."