Clutha crash: Inquiry says pilot ‘took a chance’ to ignore fuel warnings

New footage shows the aftermath of the helicopter crash

BBC Scotland is reporting that an inquiry into the Clutha helicopter crash has found that the pilot “took a chance” and ignored low fuel warnings.

Sheriff Principal Craig Turnbull said the tragedy happened because Captain David Traill had ignored the five warnings he received during the flight.

He said that was a “conscious decision” which had “fatal consequences” for the 10 people who died.

The police helicopter crashed into the roof of the busy Glasgow bar at 22:22 on 29 November 2013.

The tragedy claimed the lives of the pilot, his two crew members and seven customers in the pub.

Clutha victims
(Top: L to R) David Traill, PC Kirsty Nelis, PC Tony Collins, Gary Arthur, Samuel McGhee (Bottom: L to R) Colin Gibson, Robert Jenkins, Mark O’Prey, John McGarrigle, Joe Cusker

Those who died were Capt Traill, 51; PC Tony Collins, 43; PC Kirsty Nelis, 36, and customers Gary Arthur, 48; Joe Cusker, 59; Colin Gibson, 33; Robert Jenkins, 61; John McGarrigle, 58; Samuel McGhee, 56; and Mark O’Prey, 44. Another 31 people were injured.

During the fatal accident inquiry, Sheriff Turnbull heard testimony from families, experts and eyewitnesses.

In his findings, he said there was “no doubt” that the crash had happened because the helicopter’s engines “flamed out” due to a lack of fuel.

The fuel supply tanks had been depleted because Capt Traill had failed to ensure that at least one of the aircraft’s fuel transfer pump switches was on.

“The central question for the inquiry is why did that happen?” said Sheriff Turnbull.

“The answer is a simple one. Capt Traill ignored the low fuel warnings he received.”

Clutha helicopter crash: how the events unfolded

He said the accident would not have happened if the pilot had followed the normal procedure for dealing with low fuel warnings.

The Pilot’s Checklist stipulated that he should land the aircraft within 10 minutes of a fuel warning.

The sheriff described Capt Traill’s failure to follow that procedure as “inexplicable”.

He said: “Capt Traill took a chance that the low fuel warnings he received were erroneous.

“That was a conscious decision on his part. It was a decision that had fatal consequences for 10 people.”

  • Clutha inquiry told how helicopter crash victims died

Sheriff Turnbull also said that the Eurocopter EC135, manufactured by Airbus, should have had a visible and audible warning which would activate when both fuel transfer pumps had been switched off.

The pumps, which were both switched off during the flight, supplied fuel from the main tank to the helicopter’s twin engines.

Inside the Clutha after the crash
More than 100 people were inside the bar at the time of the crash.

Sheriff Turnbull said: “The circumstances of the accident are so unusual that it is improbable they will be repeated, even without the introduction of the safety actions taken since the accident.”

He added that the tragedy “changed forever the lives of many people” and praised the dignity of those who attended the 32-day inquiry.

Sheriff Turnbull noted it was “surprising” that it took two years from the 2015 publication of the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) report on the crash to confirm that there would be no criminal proceedings.

He added: “It took far too long to lodge a notice of inquiry in this case.”

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