Belfast Telegraph

Death crash pilot avoids jail term

The co-pilot of an RAF helicopter that crashed during a "jolly" - killing the pilot and two others - has avoided jail.

Ex-Flight Lieutenant Robert Hamilton, 29, who was left paraplegic by the incident, was on board the £20 million Puma when it crashed in a field at Catterick Garrison, North Yorkshire, on August 8, 2007.

The pilot, Flight Lieutenant David Sale, 28, from Norton, near Stockton, Teesside, died along with crewman Sergeant Phillip Burfoot, 27, from Cardiff, and 17-year-old Army recruit Private Sean Tait, from Glasgow, who was serving with the Royal Regiment of Scotland.

At an earlier court martial held in Bulford, Wiltshire, Hamilton, originally of Northern Ireland, pleaded guilty to neglect in flying likely to cause loss of life or bodily injury. A further charge of wilful neglect was left on file.

Vice Judge Advocate General Michael Hunter imposed a sentence of 16 months' imprisonment, suspended for two years.

Twelve servicemen were on board the aircraft, which was on a trooping exercise, including three from the RAF and nine soldiers.

During the hearing the judge and five-man RAF panel, who decided Hamilton's sentence, heard extracts from a two-hour-long cockpit voice recording, during which Johnny Cash could be heard singing Ring of Fire over the Puma's speaker system. The crew could also be heard laughing and joking minutes before the crash.

Dr Michael Powers QC, prosecuting, told the court martial that the recording was indicative of the "totally unprofessional behaviour" from the helicopter's crew. "During that period the common sense, professionalism and self-awareness seems to have broken down," he said.

The charge against Hamilton stated he failed to ensure the mission was executed in a manner which minimised the risks to the aircraft, its occupants or the general public over whom the aircraft was flown.

It added that he also failed to advise the aircraft commander accordingly and if necessary to offer specific guidance to avoid hazardous situations.


From Belfast Telegraph