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RAF Hercules ZH876 Board of Inquiry

Volume 475: debated on Tuesday 13 May 2008

I am able to inform the House today of the findings of the Royal Air Force board of inquiry (BOI) into the loss of the RAF C130J Hercules ZH876 in Iraq on 12 February 2007.

The purpose of a board of inquiry is to establish the circumstances of the loss and to learn lessons from it; it does not seek to apportion blame.

The board of inquiry was convened on 13 February 2007 and considered a mass of evidence. The board established that, on 12 February 2007, Hercules C130J ZH876 was on a routine operational passenger flight to conduct a roulement of troops, landing at a tactical landing zone (TLZ) in Maysaan province, South East Iraq. As the aircraft was about to touch down, it was subjected to an improvised explosive device (IED) attack which damaged the aircraft. The captain brought the aircraft to a stop and ordered the aircraft’s evacuation. All passengers and crew evacuated successfully, only slight injuries having been sustained.

A second RAF Hercules aircraft was in the vicinity of the TLZ on another task, and offered to provide assistance. It subsequently landed to recover the crew and passengers who were due to depart on ZH876. This second aircraft sustained minor damage on landing as a result of running through some debris from ZH876. This damage was later repaired at its detachment base and the aircraft was quickly returned to service the next day.

Due to operational considerations, ZH876 was judged to be unrecoverable. Consequently, it was destroyed by coalition forces on 13 February 2007, in order to deny enemy forces any exploitation opportunities.

Following extensive investigation, the board concluded that the cause of the accident was the detonation of two arrays of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) buried along the edge of the landing strip at the TLZ. The board of inquiry commended the crew on its handling of the immediate aftermath of the explosion and the successful evacuation of the aircraft. Further, the board stated that, even if the aircraft had been fitted with explosion suppressant foam, it would not have reduced the damage sustained by the aircraft in the IED attack.

The BOI report and a military aircraft accident summary are being placed in the Library of the House and on the MOD’s public internet site. As you will appreciate, the safety of our people is a principal consideration and we have therefore removed from both documents any information that might endanger the security or capability of UK and coalition personnel, or be of use to an enemy. We have, however, tried to be as open as possible and have carefully considered the public interest arguments for and against disclosure of the information in the report. We have ensured that each redaction is justified by an appropriate exemption in the Freedom of Information Act.

I remind the House that the purpose of the Inquiry is to identify those factors which contributed to the loss and indicate lessons for the future. The board made a number of recommendations that we are studying closely. Indeed, we have acted on many of them already. The main recommendation was that TLZ search procedures must be revised prior to the resumption of TLZ usage in Op TELIC. Furthermore, once cleared, a TLZ must be constantly monitored prior to use. The National Search Centre, in conjunction with relevant units, has further developed the force protection search section of RAF Regiment procedures. These are now being used by force protection teams on operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

The board of inquiry into the loss of Hercules ZH876 is now complete. I express my gratitude to the president of the board and his team for their painstaking work.