Fatal Clutha bar helicopter crash could have been avoided, report finds

30 October 2019, 17:35

Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

The pilot of the helicopter that fell on to the roof of the Clutha bar in Glasgow six years ago "consciously took a risk" and ignored low fuel warnings, an inquiry has found.

Three crew members and seven customers were killed when the Police Scotland aircraft crashed into the bar on 29 November, 2013.

The crash was caused by the engines flaming out as a result of fuel starvation whilst the helicopter was airborne, a Fatal Accident Inquiry found.

Captain David Traill's failure to ensure at least one of the fuel transfer pump switches was set to 'on' caused the accident, according to the report.

The scene of the helicopter crash at the Clutha bar
The scene of the helicopter crash at the Clutha bar. Picture: PA

Sheriff Principal Craig Turnbull said the tragedy could have been prevented if the pilot had followed emergency procedures relating to low fuel warnings.

Alan Crossan, the owner of the Clutha bar in Glasgow, told LBC he was "disappointed" and "shocked" with the report's conclusion and thought it was "brutal" to lay all the blame with the captain.

He asked: "What we don't know is why the pilot turned the switches off and the other question is why are the switches able to be turned off?

"This sort of mechanism should be fool proof, but it's not. So to me that's a design fault."

Mary Kavanagh lost her partner Robert on the night of the crash and told LBC she was "not surprised" by the findings.

"I had an idea that it was going to come out as pilot error. I find that hard to accept, mainly due to the fact that we heard so much during the inquiry about different issues that this aircraft had and issues that particular aircraft had," she said.

The father of 44-year-old Mark O'Prey who was killed in the disaster was extremely unhappy with the result of the inquiry and called it "pages and pages of toilet paper."

He said: "That's where I'm going to hang it. I'm going to hang it in the loo. It's not worth anything else. Absolutely outrageous. I didn't realise how much they were going to lay it on the pilot of the helicopter. He was the fall guy."

The inquiry heard five low fuel warnings were acknowledged during the G-SPAO helicopter's final flight.

A mural painted at the Clutha bar
A mural painted at the Clutha bar. Picture: PA

Mr Turnbull said that by failing to carry out the instructions set out in the pilot's checklist Captain Traill "consciously took a risk in proceeding on the basis that the low fuel warnings were in some way erroneous."

On the issue of why both fuel transfer pumps were switched off, he said: "Regrettably, when switching off the second (ie the aft) fuel transfer pump, Captain Traill appears to have overlooked the fact that he had previously switched off the forward fuel transfer pump approximately 11 minutes earlier."

The Sheriff said there was no evidence suggesting the captain deliberately caused the helicopter to crash, whereas there was evidence suggesting he "made a valiant attempt to land G-SPAO after both engines had flamed out".

More than 100 people were at the pub when the chopper crashed whilst returning to its base on the banks of the River Clyde.

Captain David Traill and two crew members on the helicopter, Pc Tony Collins, 43, and Pc Kirsty Nelis, 36, were killed along with seven customers in the Clutha bar - Gary Arthur, 48, Joe Cusker, 59, Colin Gibson, 33, Robert Jenkins, 61, John McGarrigle, 58, Samuel McGhee, 56, and Mark O'Prey, 44