On Wednesday afternoon Alan Shatter was supposed to have been meeting with the parents of an Air Corps cadet killed in a training crash four years ago. Instead he ended up somewhat tied up in the Dail for the day but the meeting went ahead in his absence with the Secretary General of the Department of Defence and the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces.
The deceased Cadet David Jevens parents, Donal and Liz, are distressed that civilian and military investigations in to the crash are at odds with each other and that the minister has repeatedly backed the Air Corps version of events.
The lead agency examining the crash was the Air Accident Investigation Unit and it’s report exonerates their son of any blame. That is backed up by the coroner’s verdict which records accidental death in David’s case but an open verdict in that of the plane’s instructor.
But the Defence Forces Court of Inquiry published findings which say that the decisions which led to the crash were made jointly by both men. This is a conclusion which doesn’t tally with the known facts .. but it is one that Alan Shatter has supported as recently as this week in response to a parliamentary question.
The best way to explain what happened on the 12th of October 2009 is to suggest you listen to my report on Drivetime. It reconstructs the timeline using the transcript of the Cockpit Voice Recorder. The map below of the Crumlin Valley shows the box canyon like nature of the terrain they flew into. The crash happened on the northern wall.
In most respects the AAIU investigation and the findings of the military Court of a Inquiry are the same. But the civilian report highlights how the key decisions before the crash were made by the instructor and not Cadet Jevens. He pressed on into the weather where the other two planes following them diverted around it. Maintaining high speed he directed the flight into the narrow confines of the Crumlin Valley and he was flying the plane for the last forty seconds.
The Military inquiry completely neglects to mention Cadet Jevens suggestion they divert around the bad weather and that Captain Furniss directed him to fly on. Which is an important omission that set the context for the next five minutes before the crash. Its use of language suggests the crew acted in unison throughout while the AAIU says the instructor had assumed tactical control of the flight before assuming actual control of the plane.
That is now the historical military record and Donal and LIz feel that their son’s reputation is damaged by it. The podcast includes an interview with Donal which sets out the other contradictions between the reports.
The most notable omission though is the manner in which the Defence Forces spared itself any criticism of itself. The AAIU found that there was ineffective command and control at the Air Corps Flight Training School. This is because at the time the Officer Commanding was also the pilot on the government jet and as such was off the base 70-80% of the time.
In this circumstance it went unnoticed that the audits of the Flight Training School which were supposed to happen every year just weren’t being completed, and when they were they were inacurate. This proved to be relevant to what happened on the day of the crash.
There were four approved ways for avoiding bad weather of the kind they flew into on that day. 1) You fly over it. 2) Turn 180 degrees and fly away. 3) Do a series of dog-leg turns and fly around it. Or you execute 4) an emergency low level abort like the instructor attempted by pitching up into the cloud.
The problem is that the audits said training was provided for them. But the facts established at the inquest were the instructor wouldn’t have been trained in a plane or a simulator in how to execute a low level abort. So no Flight Training School planes should have been putting themselves in a situation where they had to rely on Emergency Low Level Aborts.
Added to which the lack of supervisory oversight meant that the Instructor was effectively self-authorising in setting flight mission targets and assessing risk. This leaves Donal and Liz feeling that had the Flight Training School been properly audited and run at the time that things might have been very different on the day of the crash.
But they will have a hard time convincing Alan Shatter of any of this. In a written response to a Parliamentary Question on Tuesday the Minister indicated that he did not share any of the Jevens family’s concerns and that he wasn’t going to re-open any investigation. He feels that there is no difference between the civilian and military reports when clearly there is.
Perhaps Shatter’s preoccupation with the Garda taping scandal will prove useful to Donal and Liz. At their meeting with the Chief of Staff, Lt Gen O’Boyle, he indicated he would see if it was legally possible to re-open the Court Of Inquiry. They wait on tenterhooks not least because their second son decided to join the Air Corps the week his brother was killed. He has just started in Flight Training School in Baldonnell.