London (UPI) Oct 29, 2009
Cutbacks on safety checks led to a crash of a Nimrod surveillance jet in Afghanistan that left 14 British soldiers dead, a report concluded.
The report blasted the British Defense Ministry, the Royal Air Force and two major British weapons companies, BAE Systems and QinetiQ, for their role in a 2006 crash of a Nimrod surveillance jet near Kandahar, in southern Afghanistan. With all 14 men aboard killed, it was the British military's biggest single loss of life since the Falklands War.
Authored by aviation law specialist Charles Haddon-Cave, the report concluded that budget restraints implemented after a defense review in 1998 had substituted "business and financial targets" for "functional values such as safety and airworthiness," thus leading to the crash. The Nimrod had exploded shortly after a U.S. tanker plane had refueled it in midair.
The RAF, BAE Systems and QinetiQ had been aware of safety problems linked to the refueling for years but did not take appropriate steps to eliminate them, the report said.
A former senior RAF officer was quoted in the report as saying: "There was no doubt that the culture of the time had switched. In the days of the RAF chief engineer in the 1990s, you had to be on top of airworthiness. By 2004 you had to be on top of your budget if you wanted to get ahead."
The report concluded that the Nimrod, built by BAE Systems, exploded after a fuel leak came into contact with hot air ducts in the plane's fuselage. The Nimrod has had a series of fire-related accidents over the past two decades, and the report says the RAF, BAE and QinetiQ have failed to address those safety shortcomings.
"Cutting corners costs lives," Liam Fox, an opposition defense expert, was quoted as saying by the Daily Telegraph newspaper. "You cannot fight wars on a peacetime budget."
British Defense Secretary Bob Ainsworth issued a quick apology in response to the report.
"I am sorry for the mistakes that have been made, and that lives have been lost as a result of our failure," Ainsworth said. "Safety is now given absolute priority by the highest levels of the Ministry of Defense."
But the relatives of the victims are not satisfied.
"It doesn't bring them back, does it?" Trish Knight, the mother of a sergeant who died in the crash, told the Daily Telegraph. "There should be some resignations by top people over the lies they have been telling us since 2006."
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