Crash pilot's widow in plea to ministers over plane safety

THE fiancée of an air ambulance pilot who was killed while flying to pick up a sick boy has said the crash could have been avoided if there had been a second pilot and extra warning equipment fitted to the aircraft.

Lorne Blyth endorsed recommendations made by accident investigators whose report, published today, says Captain Guy Henderson was flying too low when he hit the sea while coming in to land at Campbeltown airport in poor visibility.

Mr Henderson, 40, died in March last year, leaving Ms Blyth and their son Calum, then 14 months old. John McCreanor, 34, a paramedic travelling with him to collect Craig McKillop, ten, who had suspected appendicitis, also died. The boy was later taken to hospital by road.

The pilot, from Broxburn, West Lothian, had been awake for more than 17 hours when the Loganair Islander plane crashed at 12:18am after a 45-minute flight from Glasgow. He had not flown for a month and had only minimum experience of landing approaches using cockpit instruments in poor visibility.

The last communication received from him was that he was commencing his approach to Campbeltown airport. Wreckage of the plane was found on the seabed, nine miles west-north-west of the airport.

The government's air accident investigation branch (AAIB) concludes that Mr Henderson had "allowed the aircraft to descend below the minimum altitude for the aircraft's position on the approach procedure, and this descent probably continued unchecked until the aircraft flew into the sea".

Its report adds that "a combination of fatigue, workload and lack of recent flying practice probably contributed to the pilot's reduced performance".

Mr Henderson may also have been disorientated, distracted, or subject to a "subtle incapacitation" which affected his ability to safely control the aircraft's flight path, the report states.

The AAIB says the accident might have been prevented by the presence of a second pilot or a low-height warning device fitted to the aircraft. US avionics experts estimated such equipment could cost 14,000 to install.

Mr McCreanor was probably knocked unconscious when his head hit the pilot's seat in front due to the lack of a upper body restraint, and the AAIB says such restraints should be fitted.

Its report adds that, although there were signs of overload and fatigue, it was unlikely the pilot became so focused on one aspect of flying the aircraft that he neglected to monitor its altitude for a protracted period.

Ms Blyth called on Douglas Alexander, the Transport Secretary, to implement the recommendations. She said: "I feel very strongly that everything possible should be done to ensure that future tragedies are prevented.

"Had a second pilot been on the aircraft, or had the aircraft been equipped with a radio altimeter or other low-height warning device, the accident may not have happened."

Ms Blyth also called for aircrew on such flights to be equipped with personal location beacons, which would have led to the quicker recovery of her fianc's body. It was found nine months after the accident.

Jim McAuslan, the general secretary of the British Air Line Pilots Association, said: "Had there been a second pilot, he or she would have almost certainly prevented the aircraft's descent into the sea and those on board would be alive today."

Months before the accident, the Scottish Ambulance Service announced the air ambulance contract would be transferred this year from Loganair to English-based Gama Aviation, using different aircraft. The new aircraft are operated by two pilots.

AIRCRAFT ACTION POINTS

THE Department for Transport's air accident investigation branch report into the fatal Campbeltown crash on 15 March, 2005 made three safety recommendations:

• There should be consideration of the compulsory fitting of upper body restraints to all seats in passenger aircraft weighing less than 5,700kg.

• The circumstances in which a second pilot is required for air ambulance flights should be reviewed because of their "unique circumstances".

• Consideration should be given to installation of a radio altimeter, or another independent low-height warning device, being made compulsory for passenger flights operated by a single pilot.