A number of British service personnel are still suffering from the effects of injuries received when the aircraft on which they were returning to Afghanistan from R&R pitched down over the Black Sea. It should have been a routine flight, but the consequences of the incident have been serious and look set to deprive some of the passengers of their military careers.
On 9 February 2014 a British RAF Voyager ZZ333, flying from RAF Brize Norton to Camp Bastion, suddenly lost control whilst at Flight Level 33,000 ft. The aircraft was flying over the Black Sea, close to Turkey, when it rapidly lost over 4,440 ft in altitude before making a terrifying nose pitch. The 180 service personnel on board were thrown towards the ceiling and a number were hurt.
Chaos followed. The aircraft shook violently and audio alarms sounded. The fall lasted for over 27 seconds, and passengers report that it felt even longer. Many in the cabin were convinced that the plane would crash and they all would be killed.
Fortunately, the Voyager’s self-protection system recovered controlled flight, and the aircraft landed at the Turkish airbase at Incirlik.
Several of the passengers had received minor injuries, but it has since emerged that the most serious consequences have been psychological. A serious and life-threatening situation, especially one in which one has no control at all over the outcome, can and often does result in some of the victims developing long-lasting conditions such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The investigation into the Voyager’s plunge & the MoD’s duty of care
A team from the Military Air Accident Investigation Branch (MAA) were deployed immediately to convene a Service Inquiry. The preliminary report has found that the incident was the result of ‘human factors’ and not a technical failure. This means that there is a real possibility that RAF aircrew caused the incident, as opposed to mechanical or environmental factors. It is therefore possible that the MoD could be found, via its employees, to have breached its duty of care towards the other members of the crew and the passengers.
The Inquiry is confident that the pitch down command was the result of an inadvertent physical input to the Captain’s side-stick by means of a physical obstruction between the arm rest and the side-stick unit. It appears that a camera belonging to the pilot had been used in the three minutes leading up to the event. Forensic analysis of the camera indicates that it was compressed and jammed between the arm rest and side-stick unit.
It is likely that this obstruction generated a pitch down command. In a sensitive environment such as the cockpit of an RAF the dangers of having any object unsecured should have been clear, and regulations and procedures should have ensured that it did not happen.
The Inquiry report indicates that safety advice has been issued to the RAF, and to the manufacturer, Airbus, to highlight these issues. Meanwhile, the Inquiry continues to examine other factors, in order to identify any relevant lessons that may enhance air safety, but it is already clear that the incident could and should have been avoided.
The MoD owes the same duty of care to air passengers as any other British employer and/or airline company. Some aviation accidents are subject to the rules of international Conventions and, therefore, shorter time limits apply even than to standard claims under English law.
Recovering compensation from the MoD
I act for a number of clients who were involved in this terrifying ordeal, and who are suffering from severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, amongst other injuries.