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‘No training or process issues’ in Glasgow police helicopter crash

Second inquiry concludes unusual circumstances of accident unlikely to be repeated

A second inquiry into a police helicopter crash in Glasgow in 2013 which killed 10 people has concluded that the circumstances of the accident are so unusual that it is improbable they will be repeated, even without the introduction of the safety measures taken since the incident.

Three crew members and seven customers died when the helicopter fell into the roof of the Clutha bar in Glasgow on November 29, 2013. Another 31 people were injured in the accident.

Those who were in the helicopter were pilot David Traill, 51, PC Tony Collins, 43, and PC Kirsty Nelis, 36.

The Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI) found that there were two main causes of the accident. First the engines of the Eurocopter Deutschland EC135 T2+ helicopter, with registration G-SPAO, owned and operated by Bond Air Services Limited, then carrying out operations on behalf of Police Scotland, flamed out sequentially while the helicopter was airborne, as a result of fuel starvation, due to depletion of the contents of the supply tank.

The contents of the supply tanks depleted due to the failure of Captain Traill to ensure that at least one of the helicopter’s fuel transfer pump switches was set to ON. 

Second the pilot of the helicopter was unable to successfully perform an autorotation and landing of the helicopter. Sheriff Principal Craig Turnbull said that there was no evidence whatsoever to suggest that the pilot deliberately caused the helicopter to crash.

He said that there was evidence to suggest that he "made a valiant attempt to land G-SPAO after both engines had flamed out".

In his determination, Sheriff Principal Turnbull said the central issue was why the pilot allowed the supply tanks to deplete to the point that they did when there was more than sufficient usable fuel available to him in the main tank to allow the helicopter to return to its base.

However he found that the quantities of fuel displayed on the fuel quantity indication system of the helicopter contradicted a number of low fuel warnings that were triggered during the flight.

THE FAI took place before Sheriff Principal Turnbull in a temporary court at Hampden in Glasgow between April and August this year.

An Air Accidents Investigations Branch (AAIB) report published in 2015 found two fuel supply switches were off and the pilot did not follow emergency procedures after a fuel warning in the cockpit.

The sheriff principal concluded that no defect in any system of work and no aspect of the training of pilots contributed to the accident.

All affected aircraft being operated for or on behalf of Police Scotland and other emergency services in Scotland now have flight recorders fitted.

By January 2013 the potential risk of the helicopter instruments displaying a higher fuel quantity compared to the actual quantity of fuel on-board had been identified; and pilots, including Captain Traill, had been made aware of that potential risk.

Until the accident, the EC135 had accumulated more than three million flying hours, over a period of twenty years, without there previously being a reported instance of fuel starvation.

The sheriff principal also criticised the length of time proceedings have taken since the initial investigation.

‘The fact that it took more than two years from the publication of the AAIB Report to the decision that there were to be no criminal proceedings is surprising, notwithstanding the extensive work carried out by Police Scotland and the Crown in the intervening period,’ his report said.

‘It took far too long to lodge a notice of an inquiry in this case, although the inquiry itself was conducted with great efficiency for which all those responsible for its preparation and conduct are to be commended. The Crown was not sufficiently resourced to enable the inquiry to start far sooner than it did.’ 

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