A SENIOR RAF engineer responsible for maintaining Nimrod spy planes was not told of a rise in fuel leaks on the aircraft before one crashed in Afghanistan killing 14 men, an inquest heard yesterday.
Wing Commander John Bromehead, formerly officer commanding Logistics Support Wing at RAF Kinloss, agreed with coroner Andrew Walker that this amounted to "a really serious failure".
The 37-year-old reconnaissance aircraft – described by the officer as "beyond its sell-by date" – exploded in a ball of flames just minutes after undergoing air-to-air refuelling near Kandahar on 2 September, 2006.
Wg Cdr Bromehead told the inquest in Oxford how he was not told in the months before the tragedy about increased fuel leaks on Nimrod aircraft, which first came into service in 1969.
Mr Walker asked: "Do you think that a failure to report to you an increase in fuel leaks is a really serious failure?" "Yes," came the reply.
Wg Cdr Bromehead, who was in charge of a team of Nimrod engineers at Kinloss between June 2005 and 2006, said he believed the tragedy was caused by fuel leaking into a dry bay and igniting on contact with a hot air pipe.
Wg Cdr Bromehead told the hearing there had been "a dilution of skills and experience" among RAF engineers which makes it more likely that problems with aircraft could be missed. He also said the RAF's management structure at the time of the tragedy was "in turmoil".