RAF helicopter crash co-pilot spared jail

Scene of the Puma helicopter crash at Catterick Garrison in 2007
Image caption The Puma helicopter crashed in a field at Catterick camp four years ago

The co-pilot of an RAF helicopter that crashed during a "jolly", killing the pilot and two others, has avoided jail.

Ex-Flt Lt Robert Hamilton was on board the Puma when it crashed at Catterick Garrison, North Yorkshire, in 2007.

Hamilton, 29, who was left paraplegic, pleaded guilty at an earlier court martial to neglect in flying likely to cause loss of life or bodily injury.

Vice Judge Advocate General Michael Hunter imposed a sentence of 16 months' imprisonment, suspended for two years.

A further charge of wilful neglect was left on file.

Cockpit recorder

The pilot, Flt Lt David Sale, 28, from Norton, near Stockton-on-Tees, crewman Sgt Phillip Burfoot, 27, from Cardiff, and Army recruit Pte Sean Tait, 17, from Glasgow, who was serving with the Royal Regiment of Scotland, all died.

The helicopter, which was on a trooping exercise, had three RAF personnel and nine soldiers on board.

The hearing listened to extracts from the two-hour cockpit voice recording, during which the Johnny Cash song Ring of Fire could be heard over the aircraft's speaker system.

The crew could also be heard laughing and joking minutes before the crash.

Hours earlier the helicopter almost hit the ground and all those on board agreed not to report it, the court martial heard.

Hamilton had also had three near accidents of his own in helicopters near Salisbury just days before the fatal crash.

'Broken down'

Dr Michael Powers QC, prosecuting, told the court martial that the recording was indicative of the "totally unprofessional behaviour" of the aircraft's crew.

Image caption Robert Hamilton was told he contributed to a "very dangerous situation" on the aircraft

"During that period the common sense, professionalism and self awareness seems to have broken down," he said.

He added: "The Crown say it was a lot more than a jolly, unfortunately a fatal one."

Dr Powers said it was not the Crown's case that Hamilton caused the accident, but by his guilty plea he was accepting he was negligent.

Hamilton, who is originally from Northern Ireland, was serving with 33 Squadron based at RAF Benson in Oxfordshire.

He left the RAF after the incident and now works in the aircraft industry, and has to use a wheelchair.

'Duty of care'

The judge told Hamilton: "It will be no surprise to you that the officers on this board are shocked at the lack of professional standards displayed by those responsible for the aircraft.

"We take fully into account that you have pleaded guilty on the basis that you were not responsible for those very dangerous manoeuvres but you, with others, contributed to create a very dangerous situation on that aircraft.

"You personally had a duty of care to those passengers and you had a duty to ensure they were as safe as possible."

Sentencing Hamilton to 16 months, Judge Hunter added: "However, in the exceptional circumstances of this case, namely that you have been rendered paraplegic by the incident and you were not directly responsible, we feel able to suspend that sentence for two years."

The £20m Puma helicopter crashed in a field on 8 August 2007.

The sentence was decided by the judge and a five-person RAF panel. The earlier court martial was held at Bulford in Wiltshire.

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