Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Crash copter's warning system off

A ground proximity warning system was not in use on a helicopter which crashed into a mountain, killing a polo-playing friend of the Prince of Wales, an accident report has said.

The system fitted to the Agusta helicopter had not been powered up since a replacement unit was fitted in 2009, around a year before the accident, the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) report said.

The system, the Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System, was not a requirement for the helicopter to operate and the alerts it provided could become considered as "nuisance" alerts, the report said.

But it added: "Had the system been in use on the accident flight, the presence of the high ground ahead of the helicopter should have initiated a 'TERRAIN' alert."

This alert would have been activated by Shanlieve, the peak in the Mourne Mountains of Northern Ireland on which the Agusta crashed on the afternoon of October 23 last year.

The report said there was no reduction in speed up to the point when the Agusta hit the west face of Shanlieve about 100ft below the 2,054ft-high summit.

This suggested that the pilot, former RAF pilot Anthony Smith, 63, was "content with the visibility ahead... or that he believed he had cleared the high ground", the AAIB said.

Mr Smith was killed in the crash, along with the Prince's friend Charles Stisted, 47, chief executive of the Guards Polo Club at Windsor, and Ian Wooldridge, 52, who was also a member of the club.

After the crash, a Clarence House spokesman said that Charles, the Duchess of Cornwall, Prince William and Prince Harry were "all shocked and deeply saddened by this terrible tragedy".

While the report said that "no conclusive causal factors for the accident could be established", the AAIB added that a technical fault with the helicopter "cannot be completely ruled out". The report added that the aircraft was so badly damaged that "a full inspection was not possible".

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