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Tornado crash report published
A collision warning system could have helped prevent a mid-air crash involving two RAF Tornados, according to air accident investigators.
Flight Lieutenant Hywel Poole, 28, Flt Lt Adam Sanders, 27, and Squadron Leader Samuel Bailey, 36, died in the collision over the Moray Firth on July 3, 2012, while a fourth crewman was badly injured.
A report found there were 17 contributory factors to the accident, including the lack of a collision warning system (CWS) on both aircraft.
The Military Aviation Authority (MAA) inquiry said the cause of the accident was "a lack of recognition of converging flight paths" which saw the two jets in the same airspace at the same time.
In its 278-page report, published today by the Ministry of Defence (MoD), poor weather conditions and "shortcomings" of the risk management process were amongst some of the remaining 16 contributory factors listed.
It also identified seven other factors to the accident and said lessons could be learned.
MAA director general Air Marshal Richard Garwood said in the report: "Tragically, there were many opportunities to enable de-confliction but, for a number of reasons, including chance, this did not happen.
"As with many accidents, bad luck has to be part of the 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 CWS."
He also said there had been "numerous delays" in the procurement of CWS for the Tornado aircraft and " financially driven decisions made by the MoD as far back as 2005" resulted in there being none fitted at the time of the accident.
An MoD spokesman said: "The Service Inquiry found that the lack of a CWS 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."
The report also said one of the crew had been diagnosed with a "phobic anxiety disorder" related to flying which affected him at medium level. It said he had sought help for the condition.
One of the other 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 said: "I do not believe his medical condition had any material bearing on the outcome of this accident."
He concluded: "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.
"There was much opportunity for this mid-air collision to be prevented by de-confliction, supervision and lookout but for a variety of reasons this did not happen and a significant safeguard of a CWS did not exist."
The report set out a series of recommendations, including the commissioning of a review, "using the lessons of CWS procurement", to "determine if safety enhancements are managed appropriately within the MoD".
But the SNP's defence spokesman, Angus Robertson, whose constituency includes RAF Lossiemouth where the three men were based, called for a fatal accident inquiry to be held.
He said: "This report is extremely distressing for the families involved and damning for the MoD.
"It finds the collision warning system would have prevented this tragic accident... It catalogues unacceptable delays, poor decision making and communication. There is now an overwhelming public interest case for a fatal accident inquiry."