Shatter to respond to appeal to reopen inquiry into fatal Air Corps crash

 

Minister for Defence Alan Shatter is expected to respond “in due course” to an appeal to reopen the State’s military inquiry into the Air Corps training crash that claimed two airmen’s lives on the Galway-Mayo border over three years ago.

The appeal has been made by Fianna Fáíl on behalf of Donal and Liz Jevens, parents of the late Cadet David Jevens of Glynn, Co Wexford, who was 22 years old at the time of the crash.

Mr and Mrs Jevens believe the military court report findings did not take full account of, and in some instances conflicted with, the findings of two previous inquiries into the crash.

Cadet Jevens and his instructor, Capt Derek Furniss (32), died instantly when their Pilatus PC-9 aircraft struck a hillside at Crimlin East near Cornamona on October 12th, 2009.

‘False climb’ illusion

The Defence Forces’ internal military court report, a copy of which has been seen by The Irish Times, attributes the cause to spatial disorientation induced by somatogravic or “false climb” illusion during a particular emergency manoeuvre in deteriorating weather.

The military court report states that the training exercise was “properly authorised”.

However, the first report into the incident, published by the Department of Transport’s Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) in January 2012, criticised the authorisation.

The AAIU found “self-authorisation” by the instructor was the “norm” in the Air Corps flight training school at the time, which “reduced supervisory oversight” and was “not in accordance with good safety practice”.

The military inquiry opened last year after both the AAIU investigation and the coroner’s inquest had been completed, and called 20 witnesses.

Mr and Mrs Jevens have questioned why the then serving General Officer Commanding (GOC) Air Corps and two officers responsible at the time for flight safety and the flight training school were not interviewed.

Mr Jevens told The Irish Times several of the report’s conclusions appear to conflict with evidence drawn from the aircraft’s cockpit voice recorder, which was examined in the AAIU investigation.

The couple, who were not represented at the military court, are concerned at the report’s failure to identify the absence of flight safety audits in the Air Corps training school between 2004 and 2009 as an issue.

At the inquest into the crash last May, current GOC Air Corps Brig Gen Paul Fry said that if he had known of the absence of such audits “it would have been acted upon, absolutely”. Brig Gen Fry took over command of the Air Corps in January 2011.

Fianna Fáil spokesman Seán Ó Fearghail, who has written to Mr Shatter calling for the inquiry to be reopened or reviewed, has said Mr and Mrs Jevens have raised “deep . . . justifiable concerns”.

Mr Ó Fearghail said the couple believe the military report to be “legally and technically flawed”, as a certified copy of the coroner’s inquest proceedings into the crash had not been formally attached to the report.

The report records the coroner’s inquest report as having been received as an exhibit.

The Defence Forces declined to comment on the issue but have said all seven safety recommendations made by the AAIU in its report have been implemented and acted upon. Work remains “ongoing” in two specific areas.

A spokeswoman for Mr Shatter confirmed that a response from Mr Shatter was being “prepared”.

Air investigations And an inquest:

The Air Corps training flight crash near Cornamona on the Galway-Mayo border on October 12th, 2009, resulted in three investigations to date:

* The Air Accident Investigation Unit report published in January last year found that “disorientation” experienced by the Air Corps instructor and loss of “situational awareness” led to the fatal crash.

* The two-day inquest in May last year by west Galway coroner Dr Ciaran McLoughlin recorded separate verdicts, including an open verdict in the case of Capt Derek Furniss and an accident death verdict in the case of trainee pilot cadet David Jevens.

* The Defences Forces military court issued 12 recommendations in a confidential report completed in January.