Pilot tells Clutha inquiry he ‘has faith’ in helicopter despite fuel issues
Captain Allan Bryers was giving giving evidence at the probe into the fatal crash in Glasgow in November 2013.
A pilot who flew the same model of helicopter which crashed on to a pub has said he still has faith in the aircraft despite experiencing fuel indication issues.
Ten people died when a Police Scotland helicopter crashed on the Clutha Vaults pub in Glasgow on November 29, 2013.
Captain Allan Bryers told a fatal accident inquiry into the incident on Wednesday that fuel indication issues arose in the model in the months after the tragedy.
The 48-year-old, currently a touring pilot for Babcock, was based at Barton airfield in Cheshire between 2012 and 2017 flying an EC135 used as an air ambulance.
On December 10, 2013 – less than a fortnight after the accident in Glasgow – Mr Bryers reported an issue with the helicopter G-NWEM.
I don't distrust the machine... I still have faith in the aircraft Captain Allan Bryers
He told the inquiry, sitting in a temporary court at Hampden Park, that when taking off and landing, the fuel indication level fluctuated on three flights during his shift that day.
Mr Bryers said: “On the day I remember taking off, seeing variations on the caution advisory display (CAD), indicating above and below volume on arrival and departure on all sectors. I’d never experienced it before.”
He added that it “began on smaller amounts then progressed… but enough to be noticeable”.
Gordon Lamont, QC for the Crown, asked if he experienced any issues on December 9, the day before, to which Mr Bryers replied: “I can safely assume no as I haven’t recorded anything in the logs.”
Four other incidents were also discussed which occurred after the crash in Glasgow – three of which were with the G-NWEM helicopter – starting on January 25 2014 with a fuel quantity indication failure.
A report from another incident two days later showed the fuel quantity fail caption appeared on the CAD while a patient was being transferred between Lancashire Hospital and Manchester Royal Infirmary.
When landing at Barton after being diverted, the fault cleared itself, the inquiry heard.
The third incident happened in June 18 of that year with the duel tank indications again reading inconsistent – firstly over and under by 3-5kg then 10-25kg.
The final fuel reading incident discussed affected another helicopter, G-KRNW, in Southampton on September 11, 2015.
When asked by Keith Stewart QC, representing the family of one of the victims, if the incidents had affected his confidence in the system, Mr Bryers said: “I don’t distrust the machine… I still have faith in the aircraft.”
The inquiry also heard from John Taylor, the pilot who Mr Bryers was handing over to after his shift on December 10.
Mr Taylor remarked they had a “really good working relationship” and it was not unusual for them to discuss a handover over the phone the day before.
He told the inquiry Mr Bryers explained the fault from December 10, 2013 and the following day he was to fly the helicopter to Blackpool for repair.
Mr Taylor said that despite plans to go earlier on December 11, a “late job came in that needed us to attend”, although he would have been “uncomfortable flying to Blackpool at that time of night” had they gone any later.
On approach the aircraft had given a low fuel warning, however a document shown to the inquiry detailed the amount of fuel left in the tanks.
Although the main fuel tank was empty there was still 44kg left in supply tank one and 29.5kg in supply tank two – an overall 73.5kg, above the level which should trigger the warning.
When asked by Shelagh McColl QC, also representing the family of one of the victims, if he could explain why a low fuel warning came on at all, Mr Taylor simply replied: “No.”
Questions have previously been raised over various systems including fuel sensors during the inquiry into the Glasgow incident.
Pilot David Traill and crew members Tony Collins and Kirsty Nelis died when the aircraft crashed on the Clutha.
Pub customers Mark O’Prey, Gary Arthur, John McGarrigle, Colin Gibson, Robert Jenkins, Samuel McGhee and Joe Cusker were also killed.
The inquiry before Sheriff Principal Craig Turnbull continues on Thursday.