THE head of an investigation into a Chinook helicopter crash that killed a young Australian soldier in Afghanistan has attacked the poor safety culture in the allied defence forces.
Wing Commander Alf Jonas also says he suspects Chinook manufacturer Boeing knew about the potential for the aircraft to surge up and down unexpectedly before the crash that killed 26-year-old Lieutenant Marcus Case on May 30 last year.
Lt Case had been in Afghanistan just three weeks when he rode as a passenger on a Chinook trip to recover an American Black Hawk.
He was “ramp riding” on the back of the helicopter when it began “porpoising” – its nose jerking up and down – as pilot Captain Stephen Young prepared for descent.
Lt Case fell out of the aircraft still attached to it with a strap called the Zorba Z51, before it hit the ground and caught fire.
Cmdr Jonas, of the Defence Airworthiness Authority, who headed the initial investigation into the accident, said the American and British defence forces were asked after the crash if they had experienced Chinooks porpoising.
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After initially being told no, Cmdr Jonas’ team discovered there had been instances involving both forces.
“It continues to baffle me what I would call the poor safety reporting culture … by not just our own forces but it looks like other forces as well,” he told the Australian Defence Force commission of inquiry in Melbourne on Tuesday.
Earlier the inquiry was told two instances of porpoising in April 2008 had been written up in incident books, but the incidents had not been dealt with up the chain of command.
Warrant Officer (WO) Paul Vandermeer, who was responsible for the aircraft’s technical airworthiness, gave evidence he had been involved in a Chinook porpoising incident while flying to Papua New Guinea in 1998.
“Nothing was done about it because we believed that was normal for this type of aircraft,” he said in his statement to the inquiry.
Cmdr Jonas said he attended a meeting last October in Melbourne with the chief pilot from Boeing.
“He was reluctant to put forward any more than what was being discussed,” he said.
“I personally believe that there was foreknowledge of some issues.”
Cmdr Jonas agreed with a suggestion by lead counsel assisting the inquiry, Colonel Gary Hevey, that it took Lt Case’s death for the issue of Chinooks porpoising to be taken seriously.
WO Vandermeer said the practice of bringing along passengers had not been common on previous Rotary Air Wing rotations, but became the norm for Rotary Group Wing 6.
He said it was “ad hoc” but estimated they took passengers on flights about once a fortnight.
The inquiry continues on Wednesday.