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Wed, Apr 20, 2005

Finding: RAF Pilot Should Have Seen It Coming

Pilot Error Cited In Near Miss Between Tornado And Puma

The UK Airport Proximity Board says an RAF F3 Tornado pilot should have seen a helicopter carrying oil rig workers about 120 miles off the coast of Scotland. No one was hurt as the aircraft passed within 50-feet of each other.

The board said, however, that only "extremely robust" evasive action on the part of the Tornado pilot kept the situation from becoming a tragedy.

It happened in February, 2004, as the Super Puma carried 14 oil rig workers and two crew members from their North Sea drilling operation to Aberdeen, Scotland.

The board's report said the F3 (flie photo of type, below), from RAF Leuchars, exceeded operation limitations in order to avoid the Super Puma.

"To avoid, he immediately pulled up, rolled left, then reversed the roll right," said the report. "During this maneuver he exceeded the 'never exceed' angle of attack limits of the Tornado, but full power was not applied to prevent any downwash affecting the AS332 [helicopter].

"He assessed that he probably passed about 100 feet above the other aircraft at the closest point," the report continued, "but added as soon as he started to pull, he knew he had done enough to miss it."

As for the helicopter, the crew reported losing their autopilot as the military aircraft roared past.

"They suddenly became aware of a 'roaring' noise coupled, 'milliseconds' later, by the sudden onset of harsh and severe turbulence which started with a roll and a yaw to the right," said the report, which was quoted in the London Telegraph. Crew members estimated the F3 passed no farther than 50 feet from their helicopter.

Passengers in the helicopter (file photo of type, above) were terrified. "I was woken by this almighty roar. The helicopter started shaking violently and dropped maybe 40ft. We all thought we were going down."

The board also chastised military and civilian air traffic controllers. Both the Tornado and the Super Puma were talking to ATC -- but on different frequencies. Investigators found neither controller was aware of the other aircraft in his airspace.

FMI: www.caa.co.uk

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