ONE of the four members of the air crew involved when two RAF Tornadoes crashed in the North Sea has died, officials said yesterday, and there was “no expectation” of recovering two missing airmen alive.
• Two RAF Tornadoes went down in the Moray Firth yesterday
• One dies, but two remain missing, with a fourth member in a serious but stable condition in hospital
• No expectation that the two missing airmen will be found alive
• Working conditions have been criticised amid claims that airmen are “knackered” and flying old equipment due to funding cuts
• MoD spokesman calls fatigue claims “pure speculation”, adding that full investigation has yet to be carried out
The fourth crew member was in a serious but stable condition in hospital last night, following the crash off the Moray coast.
The tragedy has sent shockwaves through the community where the airmen were based at RAF Lossiemouth, amid claims RAF personnel were “knackered” and flying old equipment because of funding cuts.
But a Ministry of Defence spokesman hit out at the suggestion the accident was down to tiredness, saying the timing of the accusation was insensitive while a recovery operation for the men was continuing.
RAF Lossiemouth Station Commander, Group Captain Ian Gale, said: “It is with great sadness that I must confirm the death of one of the crew members, an officer from 15 (Reserve) Squadron.
“A second crew member remains under medical care, where he is in a serious, but stable condition. Two additional personnel remain unaccounted for.
Due to extremely poor weather conditions in the area, the RAF and HM Coastguard have made a joint decision not to resume search-and-rescue operations.
“The operation will be resumed as a recovery operation as soon as possible. But we must be realistic. Given the length of time that has elapsed since the accident, there is no expectation of recovering missing personnel alive.”
The RAF ensign at the entrance to the Lossiemouth base was lowered to half-mast yesterday afternoon, and there were no flights in and out of the base.
The MP and MSP for Moray have expressed condolences to the families of crew killed.
Meanwhile, a relative of a serving member of the RAF at Lossiemouth has criticised working conditions saying airmen are often unable to concentrate on flying because of stress, pressure and tiredness.
She said cutbacks had led to people working longer hours and flying jets that are “so old they are breaking”.
Under the strategic defence and security review (SDSR) of October 2010, the Royal Navy and the RAF have to cut 5,000 jobs each by 2015, the army 7,000 and the Ministry of Defence 25,000 civilian staff.
The woman, who did not want to be identified, told reporters at the Moray base that recruitment had been “cut too short”.
She said: “The guys who are left are under increasing pressure and they’re having to work such long hours. If people are off sick they’re getting called in because they are below minimum manning.
“I think it’s having a massive impact [on safety], because when they’re flying, they’re knackered, like really knackered.”
She added: “There’s so much uncertainty. The guys are flying around with that in their heads and that is causing a massive amount of stress. All these things are going round in their heads. There is going to be more of these [incidents].”
An MoD spokesman said: “A full investigation has yet to be carried out and that has not got under way as two crew are still unaccounted for.
“It strikes us that it is insensitive to the people involved that on no basis whatsoever this incident was caused by them being too tired. No-one knows that.
“No-one knows if it was human error through tiredness, mechanical error or the weather. It is pure speculation, and to do so at a time our focus is on the two missing individuals is unhelpful and insensitive.”
“The priority now is to ensure the families of those involved receive the support they need at this most difficult of times.”
Angus Robertson, the SNP Westminster leader and defence spokesman, said: “All our thoughts and condolences are with the families, friends and colleagues of those who have been lost.
“This tragedy has deep resonance with people across Moray.”