After a near two-year wait for answers by families, the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) said yesterday that it was “not possible to explain” why pilot David Traill did not follow emergency landing procedures and continued to fly, despite acknowledging five low fuel warnings.
Similarly, the long-awaited report could not shed light on why fuel transfer pumps in the Police Scotland helicopter’s main tank were switched off, which led to its engines failing.
Solicitors representing relatives of the victims said they had been left “angry and frustrated” that there are “still so many questions which may never be answered” following the investigation.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said it was “deeply disappointing” the report did not reach a “clearer conclusion” and “raises more questions than it answers” in some areas.
With the Crown Office promising to hold a fatal accident inquiry into the accident, it means families of the ten people who died on 29 November 2013 will have to continue their wait for an explanation of why the crash happened.
The AAIB said it had carried out “extensive analysis” towards the report, but said it faced “limited evidence,” primarily due to the fact the helicopter was not required to be fitted with a flight recorder.
As part of its recommendations, it has called on the regulatory body, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), to make it mandatory for all police helicopters to be fitted with equipment to record data, audio and images.
However, the father of a man killed when the helicopter crashed through the roof of the Clutha pub in Glasgow dismissed the AAIB response as “cack-handed” and said similar calls to install flight recorders on emergency services helicopters after a fatal crash in 1998 had not been acted on.
The AAIB report found that although the helicopter had enough fuel on board to complete its journey, 73kg of usable fuel in the main tank did not reach the supply tanks because the transfer pumps were off “for unknown reasons”.
Although Mr Traill acknowledged five low fuel warnings while in charge of the helicopter, it said, he did not follow guidelines which stated he should have landed within ten minutes, instead carrying out three surveillance jobs over Lanarkshire.
The AAIB added the pilot did not complete the emergency shutdown checklist following the first engine failure. The second engine failed 32 seconds later.
Ian O’Prey, whose son Mark was among the victims, said: “The AAIB can only make recommendations. What is the point in that?
“They’ve recommended flight data recorders be installed before, but there’s still aircraft flying around without them, so what good has it done? It’s a bit of a cack-handed effort.”
The CAA issued a statement which said it assisted the AAIB with its investigation and was “studying the report and its recommendations”.
Ollie Dismore, director of operations for the National Police Air Service, said the organisation was “fully supportive” of the recommendations and it would work with the CAA to “fully implement” the new safety regulations, including the fitting of black box recording equipment to new police helicopters.
Andrew Henderson, a partner at Thompsons Solicitors which represents several of the victims’ families, said questions as to why the fuel transfer switches were turned off and the low fuel warnings were not heeded had to be answered.
Ms Sturgeon said: “Our thoughts continue to be with the families and friends of those who lost their lives. I had previously called for this report to be made public as soon as possible and I therefore welcome the fact that has now happened.
“However, it is deeply disappointing that after two years of investigation the report does not reach a clearer conclusion – indeed in some respects, it seems to raise more questions than it answers.
“I therefore share the disappointment of the families that it does not provide the closure they sought and hope that the FAI that the Crown Office has now said will happen as soon as possible, can help the families get the answers they seek.”
A Crown Office spokesman welcomed the report but said it “raises a number of questions for which the families of the victims deserve answers”.
He said: “The Crown will now conduct further investigations into some of the complex issues raised by the AAIB report. We will endeavour to do this as quickly as possible but these matters are challenging and the necessary expertise is restricted to a small number of specialists.
“As this tragedy involves deaths in the course of employment a fatal accident inquiry is mandatory. This will be held as soon as is possible.”
TIMELINE OF TRAGEDY
A Police Scotland helicopter, a Eurocopter EC135, crashes on to the roof of the Clutha pub in Glasgow at about 10.25pm.
Eight people are confirmed dead. Thirty-two are being treated at hospitals across the city.
Hundreds attend a Glasgow Cathedral service to remember the victims and their loved ones.
Nine people are confirmed dead as the remains of the aircraft are removed. A minute’s silence is held in George Square.
Nick Clegg, then deputy prime minister, visits the scene. Glasgow comic Billy Connolly also pays his respects, laying flowers at the site. A fund to help relatives and survivors is opened by the city council.
The Prince of Wales visits the crash scene and signs the city’s book of condolence.
The first of the funerals for those who died, captain David Traill, takes place at Glasgow University.
The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) says it has found no initial evidence of engine or gearbox failure in the helicopter.
A tenth person dies. Joe Cusker had been in Glasgow Royal Infirmary since the incident.
An interim air accident report by the AAIB finds that both engines failed on the helicopter.
A concert takes place at Glasgow’s Barrowlands to launch the Clutha Trust, which aims to help disadvantaged young people.
The first anniversary of the crash is marked with a memorial service at Glasgow Cathedral and a minute’s silence at the scene of the crash.
It emerges that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has raised concerns about the speed of the helicopter crash investigation in a letter to Prime Minister David Cameron.
The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall visit the Clutha and meet owner Alan Crossan, who says the bar is almost ready to reopen.
Families of the victims, survivors and members of the emergency services who dealt with the crash, along with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, attend the reopening of the Clutha.
Families say they have been left with unanswered questions after private meetings with the AAIB ahead of publication of the final report into the crash.
The AAIB publishes the final report into the crash, finding that the helicopter did not land within the recommended ten-minute period after the activation of low fuel warnings for “unknown reasons”. The report recommends that all police helicopters be equipped with black box flight recording equipment. The Crown Office announces that a fatal accident inquiry will be held.