AAIB may be right in saying that questions are impossible to answer but victims’ families deserve better than cold technicalities
The long-awaited report into the Clutha helicopter crash has been published, yet families are no closer to finding out the truth of what happened to their loved ones.
The Air Accident Investigations Branch (AAIB) said it was not possible to explain why both fuel transfer pumps in the Police Scotland helicopter’s main tank remained off during the latter part of the flight.
Similarly, investigators said it was unclear why the pilot, David Traill, did not follow emergency procedures by landing after low fuel warnings became active, or why he did not issue a mayday call.
There was no evidence of any technical malfunction and there was fuel left in the tanks.
The AAIB said it has carried out “extensive analysis” of the “limited evidence” available.
But what is now clear is that unrealistic expectations were placed on the findings of the AAIB’s investigation.
That is no reflection on the families, who need answers to bring some kind of closure.
But it is clear from the way information has been drip-fed this week, leaving grieving families angry and confused, that expectations should have been better managed from the outset.
It is upsetting to hear of grieving relatives being subjected to incomprehensible charts and graphs when all they want to know is why their loved ones died.
The AAIB is a sober body which is tasked with investigating accidents to make sure the chances of something similar happening again are limited, not to provide definitive answers or apportion blame. Their investigation into the Clutha crash has left us with the “what” but not the “why” of what happened.
Sadly, we may never know the answer to the second question.
Yesterday’s confirmation that a fatal accident inquiry will now be held is welcome.
That inquiry cannot come soon enough for the families.
However, the recent experience of the inquiry into the bin lorry crash in Glasgow has shown that FAIs are far from perfect, particularly when there is the prospect of further legal action to come in the future.
We must also make sure that the recommendation that all police helicopters are equipped with black box recorders is implemented as soon as possible.
According to one of the grieving relatives yesterday, similar calls by the AAIB in the past have not been heeded.
The Scottish Government has now written to the UK Government calling on measures to be put in place so that black boxes are fitted and used in all emergency helicopters as soon as possible. The Holyrood government is right to do so.
Relatives who lost loved ones in the Clutha disaster have every right to be angry.
There has been a failure in the way they were left clinging to the hope that a report from the AAIB was going to provide all the answers.
But while we may never know what happened to the police helicopter that November night almost two years ago, we owe it to those who lost their lives to make sure nothing similar can ever happen again.