Set up for it

The UK coroner’s report on the deaths of ten RAF servicemen in a Lockheed Martin C-130K Hercules XV179 over Iraq in January 2005 has confirmed that they died as a result of “serious systemic failures” by the Ministry of Defence.

Ground fire, including small arms fire, caused a fuel tank explosion that blew off the outboard 7m of the starboard wing.

At the end of last year the RAF Board of Inquiry published a report that looked into all the issues surrounding the event, and it contained this bland statement of what the crew faced:

“The Board concluded that the aircraft only flew for 12-15 sec after the explosion, which strongly implies the crew had little, if any, control over the aircraft, and no time for anything other than an instinctive piloting reaction.”

It stated the crash occurred partly because the wing tanks were not protected from explosion by an inerting system (since then the fleet has been protected thus), but also because the crew was flying low in daylight and they had not been provided with the latest available intelligence about where enemy deployments could be expected.

The coroner’s report has mostly served to confirm points recognised by the Board. The coroner said:

“Very sadly I don’t think this inquest can determine [that] if [fuel tank inerting] had been fitted the ten who died would have survived the attack. What it can determine is that the explosion that led to the wing breaking in two would not have occurred, because there would have been no explosion. The ten who died had just lost their opportunity for survival.”

In other words, the aircraft’s track had been anticipated by the enemy, the crew had not been given the information to avoid them, and even if the fuel tank had not been ignited by that particular projectile, within the next few minutes plenty more stuff would have been thrown at them, and they might not have survived it.

Not long after this attack I attended the LXX Squadron 90th anniversary celebration at the RAF’s main Hercules base, RAF Lyneham, and wrote about it. As usual with military men, the subject of the loss was discussed briefly, but then it was back to the party.