Former RAF pilots and aircrew ‘dying from cancer’ launch legal action against MoD over ‘exposure to toxic fumes’

29 May 2024, 09:06

Former pilots and aircrew are suing the MoD after being exposed to toxic fumes.
Former pilots and aircrew are suing the MoD after being exposed to toxic fumes. Picture: Alamy

By Jenny Medlicott

Former RAF pilots and aircrew who are allegedly dying of cancer after being exposed to potentially toxic exhaust fumes have launched legal action against the Ministry of Defence.

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Testimony from sick troops and their families claim that the MoD knew about the potential dangers of toxic exhaust fumes coming from military helicopters for more than 10 years and failed to act on them.

Affected personnel who travelled in Sea King, Wessex and Puma and Chinook helicopters have developed cancers such as myeloma, lung cancer, testicular cancer and throat cancer.

The Times revealed that almost 40 of the troops that have been diagnosed with cancer are suing the MoD. At least three of those affected have died, it is understood.

Of those affected, some have been told their cancer is terminal while others are struggling to have children as a result of their illness.

Documents revealed amid the legal fights show the government was aware of the risks of the Sea King’s exhaust as far back as 1999 - but it continued to allow aircrew to fly the helicopter without safety precautions.

Five former service personnel have received out-of-court settlements.

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Barrister Jonathan Dingle at Normanton Chambers said jet efflux gases, which contained benzene carcinogens, were allegedly being “sucked through the cabin and out again through the cockpits - mixing as the air which everyone onboard the aircraft was breathing”.

“The Germans knew about it roughly the same time and installed longer exhaust options on some of their aircraft to draw the exhaust away.”

He also claimed that aircrew serving in the British military were not provided with “masks or filters or purified air or any form of filtration system” and that they received no warning.

An MoD spokesperson said: “We hugely value our service personnel and veterans and owe a debt of gratitude to all those who serve, often with great personal sacrifice. We continually review our policies to ensure they are aligned with good practice and protect our people from harm.

“Service personnel and veterans who believe they have suffered ill health due to service from 6 April 2005 have the existing and long standing right to apply for no-fault compensation under the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme.”