Belfast Telegraph

Memory of Chinook crash still raw 25 years after tragedy

People attending a memorial ceremony on the Mull of Kintyre yesterday
People attending a memorial ceremony on the Mull of Kintyre yesterday
The aftermath of the 1994 helicopter disaster
Allan Preston

By Allan Preston

The widow of an RUC officer killed in the Mull of Kintyre helicopter disaster has spoken of her loss 25 years on.

Ian Phoenix was among 29 passengers who died when the military Chinook came down on the west coast of Scotland in thick fog on June 2, 1994.

The aircraft had been carrying 25 senior intelligence experts - including members of the RUC, MI5 and Army - who died alongside four crew members from the Special Forces.

They had been in transit to a security conference in Inverness only months before the IRA ceasfire.

Mr Phoenix's wife Susan travelled to the remote crash site over the weekend with other family members for a memorial service.

She told the BBC how she had driven her husband to RAF Aldergrove and heard the report of a helicopter crash on her car radio later that day.

"I remember that feeling of being totally bereft," she said.

Services were held at Southend Parish Church on the peninsula and at the disaster site to remember the 29 who perished.

Rev Roddy McNidder, a witness to events 25 years ago, led one service yesterday.

"The people were very much overwhelmed by the incident at the time, it was one of such significance in their lives," he said.

"The documents became part of the history of the families and the history of Scotland."

The cause of the crash remains a raw subject for many of the families after it was initially claimed the two pilots were guilty of gross negligence.

This was the view of two retired Air Chief Marshals who reviewed the evidence of a 1995 RAF board of inquiry.

After the families campaigned to clear their names, the verdict was also criticised in parliamentary committee reports.

Former Brexit Secretary David Davis, who chaired the Public Accounts Committee in the late 1990s, told the BBC that clearing their name was "a matter of honour".

A review of the evidence was ordered in 2010 by then Defence Secretary Liam Fox.

This led to the Flight Lieutenants Jonathan Tapper and Richard Cook being cleared of any blame, with Dr Fox apologising to the families. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) maintains there was no evidence of technical or mechanical failures.

In 2011 MoD Minister Lord Astor said the cause could never be established and to keep pursuing an answer would only distress the families further.

Yesterday Rev Stephen Fulcher said more than 100 people attended the church service and around 50 gathered at the crash site, where a memorial cairn now stands.

"It has been an emotional day but very healing. The relatives appreciated the services," the minister of Saddell and Carradale said.

"It has been important for them and us to mark this significant anniversary. It brings it very close to people who were involved.

"I very much appreciate how the people of Southend have pulled together to make the commemorations a very significant event.

"People have gone above and beyond to make things run smoothly and show support for the relatives of those who died in the crash.

"It has consolidated friendships built up between local people and families over 25 years."

A personal statement from Prime Minister John Major in June 1994 in the wake of the tragedy said of the dead that "their skill and determination had helped to save many lives in Northern Ireland".

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