16 April 2005

Belfast Telegraph

Crash 'copter pilot who drank wine is banned from flying

By Brendan McDaid
16 April 2005

An army pilot who admitted drinking wine just hours before ploughing into Lough Foyle has been banned from flying.

A military aircraft accident summary, obtained by the Telegraph, reveals that the pilot recalled drinking "about one to two glasses of wine" at a social function less than four hours before the crash.

The report also found that both the pilot and his passenger - who sustained serious injuries in the crash - were in civilian clothing.

It also says that no authorisation or brief for the flight to take place had been issued.

The two crew were able to free themselves from the Gazelle aircraft after it crashed in shallow water, 200 metres off the coast in the early hours of July 19, 2002.

The Army has confirmed that the AcComd (aircraft commander) pilot in charge of a helicopter, which was returning to the Ballykelly Army base, has now been court-martialled.

Speaking from Army headquarters in Lisburn, a spokesman said: "I can confirm that a pilot was court-martialled and disciplined as a result of this incident.

"The pilot concerned was permanently grounded and banned."

The report concludes: "The primary cause of the accident was determined as human factors, in that the AcComd suffered Type 1 spatial disorientation.

"This was due to a lack of attention to the external visual cues, and to the flight instruments, while distracted, fatigued and probably under the influence of alcohol."

A number of safety recommendations have now been made in the report.

DUP MP Gregory Campbell, who had raised questions over delays in the investigation at Westminster, yesterday said that he intended to ensure that recommendations in the report in light if the incident, were adhered to.

"It is my intention to pursue this matter, as, given the conclusions and what could have happened in the Limavady/Ballykelly area if the aircraft had come down in a populated area, it is imperative that every possible step is taken to prevent any reoccurrence," Mr Campbell said.

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