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RAF Pumas (Board of Inquiry)

Volume 475: debated on Thursday 15 May 2008

I wish to inform the House today of the findings of the Royal Air Force board of inquiry (BOI) into the accident involving Pumas XW211 and XW218 in Iraq in the early hours of 15 April 2007.

XW211 and XW218 were part of a Puma helicopter formation in support of coalition operations. The accident occurred when the lead aircraft, XW211, had landed and its passengers had disembarked. XW218 then tried to land next to XW211 but its main rotor blades hit those of XW211. Sadly, two personnel lost their lives and several received serious injuries. Our deepest sympathies remain with the families of those servicemen.

A BOI was convened that same day to establish the circumstances of the loss and to learn lessons from it; a BOI does not seek to apportion blame. The board concluded that the accident was caused by XW218 being positioned too close to XW211. A contributory factor was the difficulty of judging distances accurately to another rotating disc—that is, the main rotor blades—at close range.

The BOI and the chain of command made 17 recommendations that are now being studied closely, and some have already been implemented.

The BOI into the accident involving Pumas XW211 and XW218 is now complete. I express my gratitude to the president of the board and her team for their painstaking work.

A redacted version of the main body of the BOI report and the military aircraft accident summary (MAAS) will be available on the MOD internet site at http://www.mod.uk/DefenceInternet/AboutDefence/CorporatePublications/BoardsOfInquiry/. A copy of the MAAS is also being placed in the Library of the House. As you will appreciate, the safety of our people is a principal consideration and we have therefore removed from the BOI report 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 both for and against disclosure of the information in the report. We have ensured that each redaction is fully justified by an appropriate exemption in the Freedom of Information Act.

The Ministry of Defence is co-operating fully with the Wiltshire coroner who will hold an inquest in due course.