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Fighter jet collision 'could have been avoided' with warning device

Three men were killed and another seriously injured when two Tornado fighter jets crashed over the Moray Firth.

Tornado jet over Lossiemouth
©STV

A collision warning system could have helped avoid a mid-air collision over the Moray Firth, accident investigators have said.

Three men were killed and another seriously injured when two Tornado fighter jets crashed in July 2012.

A Military Aviation Authority (MAA) report into the accident, published on Monday, identified 17 factors which contributed to the crash.

Responding to the panel's findings, MAA director general Air Marshal Richard Garwood said: “Tragically, there were many opportunities to [avoid the crash], but, for a number of reasons, including chance, this did not happen.

“As with many accidents, bad luck has to be part of explanation, particularly in the closing stages when they were belly-up to each other; a few feet difference in altitude of one of the aircraft would have created a near miss rather than this tragic accident.

“Unfortunately, the final safety barrier which would have generated awareness of their close proximity did not exist as the Tornado GR4 is not fitted with a collision warning system.”

The MAA concluded that the cause of the accident was a lack of recognition of converging flight paths, which lead to a collision. The investigation found that the lack of a collision warning system did not cause the accident, but that it was one of 17 factors which made it more likely to happen.

Mode S collision warning systems will be installed in Tornado jets from 2014/15. However, the majority of air traffic is not equipped with Mode S transponders, limiting their effectiveness.

The MAA's report said one of the crew had been diagnosed with a "phobic anxiety disorder" related to flying.

One of the contributory factors contained in the report's summary of findings was the lack of a "formalised and effective care plan" for him.

But Air Marshal Garwood aded: "I do not believe his medical condition had any material bearing on the outcome of this accident.

"In summary, this tragic accident was caused when four highly competent and professional aircrew ended up unaware of their proximity to each others' aircraft in a busy, fast moving situation compounded by poor weather."

Flt Lt Hywel Poole, 28, from Bangor; Sqn Ldr Samuel Bailey, 36, from Nottingham; and Flt Lt Adam Sanders, from Lancashire, were killed in the crash. Sqn Ldr Paul Evans, from RAF Lossiemouth, survived but was badly injured.

The 18-month long MAA investigation into the crash concluded last year.

Defence ministers had said the report would not be made public until the Crown Office decided whether to hold a fatal accident inquiry (FAI) into the crash. But the report was published on Monday with no decision announced.

A Ministry of Defence (MoD) spokesman added: “The MAA Service Inquiry concluded that the cause of the accident in Moray Firth in 2012 was a lack of recognition of converging flight paths leading the two jets to collide in the same airspace.

“The Service Inquiry found that the lack of a collision warning system did not cause the accident but was one of 17 contributory factors which made it more likely to happen.

“While accidents like this are very rare, this demonstrates that military flying can never be without risk. The RAF is already implementing the lessons learnt from this tragic accident and now uses a flight planning aid to highlight potential aircraft conflicts prior to flight.

"The MoD is committed to reducing the risk of mid-air collisions and has developed a collision warning system for Tornado which is currently being trialled, and is expected to be introduced from the end of 2014.”

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