Afghan crash men 'would have had to be naughty to induce weightlessness'
Five servicemen killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan could only have attempted a feeling of weightlessness onboard moments before hitting the ground if they had been "actively naughty", an inquest heard.
Warrant Officer Spencer Faulkner, Captain Thomas Clarke, Corporal James Walters, Lance Corporal Oliver Thomas, and Flight Lieutenant Rakesh Chauhan died when their Lynx mk 9A crashed in a valley in Kandahar province on April 26 2014.
A service inquiry published last year said the pilots may have been attempting to simulate the feeling of weightlessness or zero gravity just before impact.
But the servicemen's families denied they would carry out such a stunt.
Questioning senior flying instructor Major David Sams at Oxford Coroner's Court, the Faulkner family counsel Michael Rawlinson QC said voice recordings from the cockpit disclosed one of those on board said they had a "Voyager flashback" - a previous incident in which a military plane lost height and created a feeling of weightlessness - earlier in the flight.
Mr Rawlinson, making the point that it was not possible the crew intended to create a feeling of weightlessness during the descent into the valley, said: "It would be difficult to induce 'a bit of floaty' when you're (starting the descent), wouldn't it?
"You'd have to be actively naughty to induce a bit of floaty?"
The major replied: "Yes."
Asked by coroner Darren Salter about producing negative-G - which can cause feelings of weightlessness - the major replied: "I'm not convinced you'd get (it) on a descent. It is more likely on a tactical climb."
The court heard the collision was made at force and great speed, with estimates that the helicopter had descended 25ft (7.5m) in half a second, despite trying to halt the rate at which it was heading towards the ground.
Maj Sams said it would have been difficult for the crew to execute a recovery from such a low level, when travelling at speed.
He said: "If you have a high speed descent on a similar scenario to the lads, sadly, at 50ft it would be close."
Yesterday the court heard how WO Faulkner was flying "his last operation before retirement" when the helicopter came down.
Joining 38-year-old WO Faulkner, from Reading, in the front of the helicopter cockpit was Capt Clarke, a 30-year-old from Tiverton in Devon who was born in Cardiff. He was married to an army officer and had two children.
Sitting behind them was Cpl Walters, 36, who was married and lived in Alton, Hampshire.
The three were members of the Army Air Corps and were serving as the Lynx's three-man team at the time of the crash.
Their passengers, seated behind them, were Flt Lt Chauhan, 29, from Cropston in Leicestershire, and L/Col Thomas, 26, who lived in Kington, Herefordshire, but was originally from Brecon in Wales.
The Taliban initially claimed responsibility for the attack but the Ministry of Defence later said the helicopter was not shot down.
Major Kevin Anderson, the former squadron training officer, yesterday told the court he was satisfied with Capt Clarke and WO Faulkner's flying capabilities, although he had "concerns" about the former's shortage of hours flying in the desert.
He also said there was a technical "failure" in WO Faulkner's case in that he was engaged in active service on three occasions without familiarisation training.
Maj Sams said the fact WO Faulkner had not been retrained on a Mk9A Lynx in the three years before the crash "was not ideal best practice".
But he said the pilot had a wealth of recent experience in a similar model.
"There's a difference on power, but not on handling," he said.
The major, who had flown with both tragic servicemen on a sortie in Malaysia three months earlier, said of the pair's ability: "You always ask yourself: would you want to fly with these guys on operations and would you want them to fly your family?
"On both occasions - yes, yes."