Air traffic controller speaks out on 'harrowing' ordeal

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THE RAF air traffic controller cleared last week over the deaths of two American pilots spoke out last night about his "nightmare" ordeal.

Flight Lieutenant Malcolm Williams had faced charges of negligence at a court martial over the deaths of the pilots who crashed in the Cairngorms in 2001.

The 22-day hearing was the longest and most expensive court martial in RAF history, costing an estimated 1.5m.

Yesterday, writing on an aviators’ website, Williams thanked pilots and air traffic controllers from around the world who had supported him.

He said: "Thank you all for the great support that you have given to [my wife] Sue, the children and I during this nightmare. The experience has been harrowing to say the least and all I feel at the moment is a very saddened numbness for all concerned."

The message, on the website, added: "There are no winners in this tragic situation. The huge support afforded through pprune has been very humbling, many thanks."

Hundreds of pilots, military and civilian air traffic controllers used the website to drum up support for Williams and follow the events at his court martial, which was held in Helensburgh.

Williams, who is based at RAF Leuchars in Fife, was taken off air traffic control duties when he was charged and had to wait for 23 months before he could clear his name.

At the end of the hearing, the jury of six senior RAF officers took six-and-a-half hours to clear the 47-year-old air traffic controller from Broughty Ferry, near Dundee.

His wife, Sue, also spoke out on the website yesterday against the decision to prosecute her husband.

She told supporters: "We would not have got through the ordeal without you lot. It made a big difference."

Williams added: "Finally I want people to know that Spot (Williams’s nickname) has endured two years of hell but faced the trial with utter dignity."

The website clocked up over 53,000 hits on a forum discussing the Williams case. Current and former military pilots and air traffic controllers posted messages demanding to know why Williams was on trial.

The controller had been accused of giving the US pilots, Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth Hyvonen, 40, and Captain Kirk Jones, 27, a "false sense of security" by advising them they could descend to 4,000ft near the Cairngorms.

The US fighter pilots crashed their F-15 jets into the upper slopes of Ben Macdui in white-out conditions in March 2001.

The prosecution alleged that the pilots, taking his advice, had descended from 8,000ft straight into the mountain.

But eye witnesses testified the US planes were flying low before they hit the 4,295 ft mountain at 600mph. This crippled the prosecution case.

The Ministry of Defence has said it will cover Williams’ legal costs, said to be in excess of 70,000. He was backed by the Guild of Air Traffic Control Officers (GATCO).

Richard Dawson, GATCO’s president, yesterday called for an investigation by the Commons Defence Select Committee into the RAF decision to bring a court martial.