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Family Members Tour Nimrod Aircraft, Hear RAF Crew's Final Moments

Reconnaissance Plane Lost Over Afghanistan In 2006

Ahead of a formal inquest into the September 2, 2006 explosion of a Royal Air Force Nimrod MR2 reconnaissance plane over Afghanistan, this week the families of the 14 lost servicemen examined an identical aircraft, to learn more about what likely led to the accident.

As ANN reported, an RAF inquiry into the accident determined a probable fuel leak, combined with inadequate fire suppression systems onboard the 37-year-old plane, led to the explosion. The aircraft had conducted air-to-air refueling shortly before fires were reported; witnesses on the ground told investigators they saw a small fire near the back of the Nimrod, before the conflagration enveloped the aircraft.

The Guardian reports the victims' families  visited RAF Brize Norton on Tuesday, where they saw a Nimrod on display, as well as a partly-stripped engine.

Those parties returned to the courtroom Wednesday, where family members heard the cockpit recording of the aircraft's final moments. The Nimrod's crew sent out a Mayday message soon after the fires broke out, reports BBC News, and tried to make an emergency landing before the aircraft exploded.

In an unusual step, the Ministry of Defence took responsibility for the accident last December, following revelations of substandard maintenance and inspection protocols on the aging aircraft. Defence Secretary Des Browne also made a formal, public apology.

That admission should make it easier to determine what families will receive... but it hasn't made it any easier for them to come to terms with the loss of their loved ones. As family members left the courthouse Wednesday, many were in tears.

Oxfordshire deputy coroner Andrew Walker is handling the inquest, which will determine compensation for those who lost family members in the accident. Walker has a reputation for taking a hard line with the military over such accidents.

"The distress it caused to the families cannot be quantified," Walker said Tuesday. 

The inquest will last three weeks, including testimony from about 40 witnesses. In the meantime, the Nimrods are still flying, five years past their planned 2003 retirement date. The MoD is still awaiting the replacement for the aged planes, the vastly upgraded -- but significantly delayed, and overbudget -- Nimrod MRA.4.

FMI: www.raf.mod.uk, www.mod.uk/defenceinternet/home

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