RAF determined to learn the lessons of Hercules...

22 October 2008

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Senior RAF Officers have made statements concerning the loss of RAF Hercules XV179 and her ten crew, shot down over Iraq in January 2005, following the verdict of the Coroner released today, 22 October 2008.

Top row, L-R: Squadron Leader Patrick Marshall, Flight Lieutenant David Stead, Flight Lieutenant Andrew Smith, Flight Lieutenant Paul Pardoel and Master Engineer Gary Nicholson; Bottom row, L-R: Chief Technician Richard Brown, Flight Sergeant Mark Gibson, Sergeant Robert O'Connor, Corporal David Williams and Acting Lance Corporal Steven Jones.  Photograph: via MOD.

Coroner David Masters, recording verdicts of "unlawful killing by terrorist insurgents", read out a narrative verdict, which is a statement about how death occurred and which is used when a coroner believes the conclusions require detailed explanation.

Group Captain Mike Neville, Station Commander RAF Lyneham, said:

"On behalf of the Servicemen and women and our civilian colleagues at RAF Lyneham I would like to offer my continued support to the families who lost their loved ones when Hercules XV 179 was shot down over Iraq in January 2005. At that time I was the commander of the squadron concerned and was also the acting station commander and therefore, I know first hand how badly the loss of Steven Jones, David Williams, Bob O'Connor, Richie Brown, Mark Gibson, Gary Nicholson, Paul Pardoel, Andrew Smith, David Stead and Patrick Marshall affected us all at RAF Lyneham. However, no matter how badly it may have affected us it changed forever the lives of their families. The strength the families have shown, since that terrible day, as individuals and as a group has been truly remarkable and I know that their men would have been very proud of them.

"It is this spirit that will see them through and it is this spirit that I and fellow commanders rely heavily upon when we deploy our personnel to operational theatres. Today, I have a large number of crews and aircraft deployed overseas in support of operations. It is important to the RAF as a Service to look after and support the needs of our personnel whether at home or overseas, but it is also just as important to us to support and address the concerns of their families. People often talk about the service family; tragic events such as this bring the importance of this term into sharp relief. On behalf of all at RAF Lyneham and indeed the Armed Forces I would like to offer my most sincere condolences and my unyielding support to the families of the crew of XV179 - we will not forget them.

"Finally, I would like to thank the coroner for Swindon and Trowbridge, Mr David Masters for carrying out such a thorough investigation. I will not be commenting on the results of the inquest at this time as this will be done by the Air Officer Commanding Number 2 Group, Air Vice Marshal Hillier."

Statement from Air Officer Commanding Number 2 Group, Air Vice Marshal Stephen Hillier:

"I would like to convey my deepest sympathies to the families of the 10 RAF and Army personnel who died when Hercules XV179 was shot down by hostile fire in January 2005. The families of these men, and their former colleagues in the Armed Forces, have suffered a great loss and they are foremost in our thoughts at this difficult time.

"It is clear that the loss of the aircraft was due to enemy action. However, this inquest, which Her Majesty's Coroner has conducted so thoroughly, and our Board of Inquiry, have highlighted a number of factors that contributed to this incident. Our processes have been shown to be inadequate in some areas. We were not able to provide the crew of the aircraft with all the up to date intelligence and tactical advice concerning potential vulnerabilities. MOD did not take all available information into account in developing equipment to protect against likely threats. For these shortcomings, I would like to apologise, on behalf of the RAF and the MOD. Since the loss of XV179, we have revised and enhanced our processes to prevent this situation occurring again in the future. Though, in the light of the Coroner's findings, the Department will review whether there is more that needs to be done.

"The Coroner has also highlighted the importance of Explosive Suppressant Foam. A recommendation to fit ESF was considered in 2002 within 2 Group, but was not judged to be a sufficiently high priority at that time, in relation to the assessed threat and the range of other protective measures being implemented at that time. The loss of XV179 showed that judgement was incorrect in relation to the threats which existed in 2005. All Hercules aircraft operating in Iraq or Afghanistan are now fitted with ESF.

"The loss of XV179 confirms again the risks that our people face daily on operations. The crew of XV179 demonstrated the highest levels of ability and professionalism in a very demanding operational environment. We as an organisation are determined to learn the lessons highlighted by this tragic loss."


Image 1: (Larger size) Top row, L-R: Squadron Leader Patrick Marshall, Flight Lieutenant David Stead, Flight Lieutenant Andrew Smith, Flight Lieutenant Paul Pardoel and Master Engineer Gary Nicholson; Bottom row, L-R: Chief Technician Richard Brown, Flight Sergeant Mark Gibson, Sergeant Robert O'Connor, Corporal David Williams and Acting Lance Corporal Steven Jones. Photograph: via MOD.

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