Air Accident Investigations
5. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Minister for Defence if he will order the reopening of the military enquiry covering the crash of an Air Corps Pilatus PC-9 aircraft in County Galway on 12 October 2009 resulting in two fatalities and the concerns raised by the parents of one of the Air Corps personnel killed (details supplied) regarding the conduct of the investigation. [13525/13]
Deputy Fergus O'Dowd: I wish first to extend my sympathies to the families of the deceased. There have been three separate reports into this tragic accident. The air accident investigation unit of the Department of Transport conducted an inquiry and published its report on 24 January 2012. It found that the probable cause of the accident was spatial disorientation of the instructor-pilot in conditions of poor visibility, resulting in a controlled flight into terrain. The subsequent inquest into the deaths of the two crew members recorded an open verdict in respect of the instructor-pilot who was piloting the aircraft at the moment of impact and a verdict of accidental death for the cadet.
The court of inquiry’s findings are in complete agreement with those reached in the earlier investigations, namely, that the accident was caused by spatial disorientation of the instructor, who was piloting the aircraft in conditions of poor visibility. All of the reports agree that the cadet bore no responsibility of any kind for the accident. The Minister, Deputy Shatter, is willing to address any questions about the court of inquiry and has asked the Attorney General for advice in this regard. However, he is satisfied that the court of inquiry has done its work in a thorough way and that its members acted professionally, impartially and with integrity.
Deputy Joe Higgins: On 12 October 2009, as the result of a crash on an Air Corps training flight, Cadet David Jevens tragically died, as did Captain Derek Furniss. In the question I tabled I asked that the court of inquiry's investigation be reopened. The Minister of State indicated that the Attorney General has been asked to provide advice, and I welcome that in so far as it goes. However, much more needs to be done.
The father of the late Cadet Jevens's is observing in the Visitors' Gallery. The family of the late Cadet Jevens, in particular, are deeply unhappy with the conduct of the court of inquiry for a number of specific reasons. The first of these is that Defence Force regulation A5(2) directs that a certified copy of the proceedings in the Coroner's Court be forwarded to the court of inquiry. This was not done. Evidence was given at the Coroner's Court and the cross-examination of witnesses in that court yielded vital evidence about the tragedy. Important parts of that evidence were contracted during the proceedings of the court of inquiry, but no attempt was made to reconcile the differences that came to light or to cross-examine witnesses. The second reason is that no safety audit was carried out in the flight training school between 2004 and early 2009. There was criticism of this fact in the air accident investigation unit's report. However, the then flight safety officer was never called before the court of inquiry. The third reason is that the commanding officer of the flight training school was on other duties for more than half of the time leading up to and during 2009. He was never called upon to give evidence before the court of inquiry.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Will the Deputy please ask a question?
Deputy Joe Higgins: The final reason is the fact that witnesses were given copies of the questions to be asked a long time before the court of inquiry sat. They presented written statements, in respect of which they were not cross-examined, and which in some cases differed substantially from the evidence of the air accident investigation unit and of the coroner. No attempt was made to reconcile this. I put it to the Minister of State that there is a compelling argument to reopen the court of inquiry and I ask that this be done.
Deputy Fergus O'Dowd: I again offer my deepest sympathies to the families of Cadet Jevens and Captain Furniss in respect of this awful tragedy. I reiterate that the Minister for Defence, Deputy Shatter, has arranged for all of the relevant issues that were raised to be forwarded to the Attorney General for advice. The Minister is available to meet the families of the deceased at any time.
In the context of the findings of the air accident investigation unit, all of the seven safety recommendations have been implemented and acted upon. However, due the nature of some of those recommendations, work remains ongoing in two specific areas: the recommendation concerning external input into the Air Corps safety management system, SMS, and that concerning the implementation of flight data monitoring. The position in respect of the former is that the Air Corps has accepted a suggestion with regard to the inclusion of external inputs in the SMS auditing process and is sourcing a suitable expert in this regard. The position on flight data monitoring is that a study has been completed and steps have been taken to commence the implementation of recommendations to equip all aircraft in the fleet with flight data monitors
Deputy Joe Higgins: I take it the Attorney General would be prepared to accept a submission from the family of Cadet Jevens. I shall so advise them; that would be normal. I have to ask that, in the reopening of this court of inquiry, the family of Cadet Jevens be represented, and the family of Captain Furniss should they wish. It is vital that the families would have the opportunity of being represented to represent the name and vindicate the rights of their loved ones who tragically died.
Deputy Fergus O'Dowd: I accept the points Deputy Higgins has made and I will ensure they are brought to the attention of the Minister, Deputy Shatter. All of the issues raised up to now, and I am not familiar with all of them, have been addressed in the context of being sent for legal advice but if there are any other submissions the Deputy or the families wish to make, I have no doubt that on receipt of them the Minister, Deputy Shatter, will pass them on.