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Nimrod Losses - XV230

A Nimrod MR2 reconnaissance plane crashed in Afghanistan on 02 September 2006, killing 14 British servicemen. The dead included 12 members of the Royal Air Force, a Royal Marine and a British Army soldier. The casualties were greatest single-day loss of British military personnel since the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in November 2001. RAF Nimrod XV230 was lost on 2 September 2006 on a mission over Afghanistan when she suffered a catastrophic mid-air fire, leading to the total loss of the aircraft and the death of all 14 service personnel on board. Investigation of the crash scene had to be curtailed because of enemy presence but, fortunately, photographs were taken and crucial recording equipment recovered. Subsequently, most of the aircraft wreckage was removed from the site by the Taliban and local villagers and disappeared.

XV230 was the first Nimrod to enter service with the RAF on 2 October 1969. But for the delays in the Nimrod MRA4 replacement programme, XV230 would probably have no longer have been flying in September 2006, because it would have reached its Out-of-Service Date and already been scrapped or stripped for conversion. The history of Procurement generally in the MOD has been one of years of major delays and cost overruns. This has had a baleful effect on In- Service Support and safety and airworthiness generally. Poor Procurement practices have helped create 'bow waves' of deferred financial problems, the knock-on effects of which have been visited on In-Service Support, with concomitant change, confusion, dilution, and distraction.

On 2 September 2006, RAF Nimrod XV230 was on a routine mission over Helmand Province in Southern Afghanistan in support of NATO and Afghani ground forces when she suffered a catastrophic mid-air fire, leading to the total loss of the aircraft and the death of all those on board. XV230 had a full crew complement of 12 on board, together with two mission specialists: Flight Lieutenant A J Squires (Captain), Flight Lieutenant S Johnson, Flight Lieutenant L A Mitchelmore, Flight Lieutenant G R Nicholas, Flight Lieutenant S Swarbrick, Flight Sergeant G W Andrews, Flight Sergeant S Beattie, Flight Sergeant G M Bell, Flight Sergeant A Davies, Sergeant B J Knight, Sergeant J J Langton, Sergeant G P Quilliam, Lance Corporal O S Dicketts and Marine J D Windall. This was an unusually experienced crew with two of the Nimrod Force's most capable and knowledgeable aviators, Flight Lieutenant Squires and Flight Sergeant Davies, on the flight deck. Faced with a life-threatening emergency, every member of the crew acted with calmness, bravery and professionalism, and in accordance with their training. They had no chance, however, of controlling the fire.

The loss of XV230 was caused by the escape of fuel during Air-to-Air Refuelling (AAR), occasioned by an overflow from the blow-off valve to No. 1 tank, causing fuel to track back along the fuselage, or alternatively, a leak of fuel from the fuel system (fuel coupling or pipe), leading to an accumulation of fuel within the No. 7 Tank Dry Bay. Although of a lower probability, the fuel leak could have been caused by a hot air leak damaging fuel system seals; and the ignition of that fuel following contact with an exposed element of the aircraft's Cross-Feed/Supplementary Cooling Pack (SCP) duct.

The Nimrod Safety Case was drawn up between 2001 and 2005 by BAE Systems (Phases 1 and 2) and the MOD Nimrod Integrated Project Team (Third Phase), with QinetiQ acting as independent advisor. The Nimrod Safety Case represented the best opportunity to capture the serious design flaws in the Nimrod which had lain dormant for years. If the Nimrod Safety Case had been drawn up with proper skill, care and attention, the catastrophic fire risks to the Nimrod MR2 fleet presented by the Cross-Feed/SCP duct and the Air-to-Air Refuelling modification would have been identified and dealt with, and the loss of XV230 in September 2006 would have been avoided. Unfortunately, the Nimrod Safety Case was a lamentable job from start to finish. It was riddled with errors. It missed the key dangers. Its production is a story of incompetence, complacency, and cynicism. The best opportunity to prevent the accident to XV230 was, tragically, lost.

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