Controller faces air crash court martial

AN RAF air traffic controller has appeared before a court martial charged with causing the death of two Suffolk pilots in a double jet crash.Flight Lieutenant Malcolm Williams, 47, was on duty at RAF Leuchars, Fife, Scotland on the day two F15C jets crashed into a Scottish mountain.

AN RAF air traffic controller has appeared before a court martial charged with causing the death of two Suffolk pilots in a double jet crash.

Flight Lieutenant Malcolm Williams, 47, was on duty at RAF Leuchars, Fife, Scotland on the day two F15C jets crashed into a Scottish mountain.

Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth Hyvonen, 40, and Captain Kirk Jones, 27, of the United States Air Force, died in the incident at Ben Macdui in the Cairngorms during a snowstorm on March 26, 2001.

Flt Lt Williams, who had been providing radar information and was in contact with Lt Col Hyvonen, is alleged to have told the pilot to descend to 4,000ft when the minimum safe altitude in that area was 6,500ft.


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The descent is said to have caused the deaths of the two pilots.

Williams faces an alternative charge of negligently performing in his duties as an air traffic controller.

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He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Flt Lt Williams is believed to be the UK's first military controller in living memory to be court martialled in connection with a fatal air crash.

If found guilty, he could be jailed, discharged from service, reduced in rank or fined.

The court martial, which is expected to last several days, opened yesterday >monjan27> before seven senior RAF officers assisted by a judge advocate.

RAF Group Captain Alistair McGrigor, prosecuting, said Flt Lt Williams had "created a false environment and lulled the air crew into a false sense of security".

He said the air traffic controller had responded "inappropriately' by telling Lt Col Hyvonen, the lead pilot of the formation, to descend to 4,000ft.

However, he said Williams was not solely responsible for the accident and conceded that the pilots were responsible for the avoidance of any other air traffic and the terrain.

The court martial heard that Lt Col Hyvonen had used an American phrase "minimum vectoring altitude' which Flt Lt Williams had not queried.

Lt Col Hyvonen had then asked Flt Lt Williams to confirm the descent to 4,000ft, which the air traffic controller did.

The two pilots had taken off from RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk in the single seater £15 million jets on the day of the crash for a training exercise.

More than 100 rescuers battled against sub-zero temperatures and blizzards to find the missing men.

Eventually the smell of aviation fuel near to the summit of the 4,295ft mountain led to them the wreckage.

The court martial, before Judge Advocate Edmwnd Hoelwyn-Hughes, was due to continue today at the Royal Navy base in Helensburgh, Argyll and Bute, Scotland.

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