A Chinook helicopter of the Royal Air Force (RAF) crashes on the Mull of Kintyre, Scotland, in foggy conditions on June 2, 1994. The crash results in the deaths of all twenty-five passengers and four crew on board. Among the passengers are almost all the United Kingdom‘s senior Northern Ireland intelligence experts who are travelling from Belfast to a security conference in Inverness. The accident is the RAF’s worst peacetime disaster.
Earlier in the day, the helicopter and crew carry out a trooping flight, as it is considered to be unsafe for British troops to move around in certain parts of Northern Ireland using surface transport at the time due to the threat posed by Provisional Irish Republican Army attacks. This mission is safely accomplished and they return to Joint Helicopter Command Flying Station Aldergrove at 3:20 PM. The helicopter takes off for Inverness at 5:42 PM. Weather en route is forecast to be clear except in the Mull of Kintyre area. The crew makes contact with military air traffic control (ATC) in Scotland at 5:55 PM.
Around 6:00 PM, the helicopter flies into a hillside in dense fog. The pilots are Flight Lieutenants Jonathan Tapper, 28, and Richard Cook, 30, both United Kingdom Special Forces pilots. There are two other crew. The helicopter is carrying 25 British intelligence experts from MI5, the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the British Army, from RAF Aldergrove (outside Belfast, Northern Ireland) to attend a conference at Fort George, near Inverness, Scotland. At the time of the accident Air Chief Marshal Sir William Wratten calls it “the largest peacetime tragedy the RAF had suffered.”
In the immediate aftermath of the accident, one commentator states that the loss of so many top level Northern Ireland intelligence officers in one stroke is a huge blow to the John Major government, “temporarily confounding” its campaign against the IRA. That the crash kills so many British intelligence experts, without any witnesses in the foggy conditions, leads to considerable speculation and conspiracy theories being devised on the issue on the potential of a cover-up having been performed. Among these are accusations that wake turbulence from a top-secret hypersonic U.S. aircraft had been responsible for the crash, while another postulates that it is a deliberate assassination of the intelligence operatives on board in connection with the then on-going Northern Ireland peace process.
In 1995, an RAF board of inquiry rules that it is impossible to establish the exact cause of the accident. This ruling is subsequently overturned by two senior reviewing officers, who state the pilots were guilty of gross negligence for flying too fast and too low in thick fog. This finding proves to be controversial, especially in light of irregularities and technical issues surrounding the then-new Chinook HC.2 variant which were uncovered. A Parliamentary inquiry conducted in 2001 finds the previous verdict of gross negligence on the part of the crew to be “unjustified.” In 2011, an independent review of the crash clears the crew of negligence.
(Pictured: Memorial on Mull of Kintyre, Scotland to the crash victims of the 1994 RAF Chinook crash)