RAF Nimrods back over Afghan skies

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MR2 fleet returns to action after crash kills 14 servicemen

The UK Royal Air Force's fleet of British Aerospace Nimrod MR2 surveillance aircraft resumed operations last week after undergoing an urgent safety inspection following the 2 September loss of a 120 Sqn-operated platform in southern Afghanistan. One of the oldest Nimrods in the RAF inventory, XV230 was being operated from an undisclosed Middle Eastern state before the crash, which killed all 14 British personnel onboard.

The RAF says the aircraft was operating at medium- to high-level shortly after undergoing in-flight refuelling when its crew reported a technical fault which it believes to have been fire-related. The UK Ministry of Defence swiftly eliminated enemy action as having caused the aircraft to crash around 20km (12 miles) west of Kandahar airfield, attributing its loss to "a terrible accident". US Air Force General Atomics MQ-1 Predator unmanned air vehicles and Sikorsky HH-60 Pave Hawk combat search and rescue helicopters were deployed to protect the crash site.

Believed to have been using its wing-mounted electro-optical/infrared sensor to provide intelligence information to support a major NATO ground and air offensive near Kandahar, the Nimrod came down at around 11:00 local time in what the RAF has described as "reasonably good weather conditions". US Central Command says French air force Dassault Mirage 2000s, RAF BAE Systems Harrier GR7As and USAF Boeing B-1B bombers and Fairchild A-10 ground-attack aircraft were also involved in the operation.

The RAF declines to detail the nature of the post-crash inspection, but says its remaining Nimrod fleet passed scrutiny. Another forward-deployed MR2 conducted an operational mission on 3 September, while training activities are believed to have resumed from RAF Kinloss in Scotland on 6 September. The base houses the UK's frontline fleet of 16 Nimrod MR2s, which will be replaced by 12 BAE Nimrod MRA4s by March 2011.

An RAF source says the service was late last week awaiting initial information from a Board of Inquiry team, which was dispatched to survey the remote and dispersed crash site. The aircraft's data accident recording unit or other onboard communications equipment could assist with its investigation, which will take several months to complete.