'Grave concern' Chinook crash records could be destroyed
Published on 21 January 2019
A minister has expressed "grave concern" that official records relating to a Chinook helicopter crash on the Mull of Kintyre nearly 25 years ago could be destroyed.
Rev Roddy McNidder said he feared the move would mean that the true cause of the tragedy may never been known.
The retired minister, who led Southend Church on the Mull of Kintyre at the time, spoke out after the Ministry of Defence confirmed that records closed in 1995 and 1996 "will be reviewed for release or alternative disposal this year".
Mr McNidder said the timing was "insensitive" and "intrusive" to the families of the 29 people who died and called for all records relating to the accident to be made public.
The helicopter was on its way from RAF Aldergrove near Belfast to Inverness on June 2, 1994 when it crashed in a ball of flames on the Mull of Kintyre.
The pilots, Flt Lts Jonathan Tapper and Richard Cook, were accused of gross negligence over the crash.
In 2003, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland called on the Ministry of Defence to "revisit" the tragedy while Jonathan Tapper's father, Michael, watched from the public gallery.
Former Moderator, Very Rev Dr Alan McDonald, who was convener of the Church and Nation committee at the time, said the families of the victims felt "encouraged and supported" after the Kirk took up their case.
A fresh review was ordered and in 2011 found that the pilots should not have been blamed and the earlier ruling was set aside.
But David Hill, a retired MOD helicopter engineer and Dr Susan Phoenix, whose husband RUC Det Supt Ian Phoenix was killed in the crash, told the Belfast Newsletter that the review which restored the pilots' reputations had no remit to inquire into the actual cause of the crash.
Speaking in a personal capacity, Mr McNidder said: "The news that the MoD may consider the destruction of the records pertaining to the Crash of RAF Chinook ZD576 on the Mull of Kintyre as the 25th anniversary of that heart-breaking trauma approaches, is of grave concern.
"These records are, and will continue to be, of great significance and ought to be retained as an important legacy resource and released to the public.
"They have meaning and great personal value to many families and will continue to do so for generations of those affected.
"The timing of this review is very insensitive, and indeed intrusive to families and colleagues of those who died, and one must ask why the need to destroy such a valuable historical record is even being considered?"
Mr McNidder of Alloway near Ayr, a retired NHS chaplain, said "just because one can do a thing, does not mean one ought to".
"To quote the Irish philosopher and statesman Edmund Burke, ‘it is not what a lawyer tells me I may do but what humanity, reason, and justice tell me I ought to do'," he added.
Mr McNidder, who was minister at Southend between 1987-1997, led a memorial service for the victims of the crash in September, 1994.
An MOD spokesperson said: "MOD records that were closed in 1995 and 1996 will be reviewed for release or alternative disposal this year.
"These reviews have not been completed, and a decision will be made in due course."