Matthew Hickley / The Daily Mail – 2008-05-27 22:55:10
LONDON (May 17, 2008) — The Ministry of Defence covered up the fact that Iraqi insurgents destroyed a £30million RAF Hercules transport aircraft by planting bombs next to a runway.
Military spokesmen claimed publicly that the C-130J aircraft, with 64 people on board, had been accidentally damaged on landing — and that there was no evidence of enemy action.
The cover-up was an attempt to deny the Iraqis a further propaganda coup following the earlier loss of another Hercules. It is revealed in official documents seen by the Mail.
In reality, the aircraft was blasted by a string of at least five bombs buried next to the runway, the Board of Inquiry report reveals.
They exploded just before it touched down in darkness – destroying aircraft systems, injuring passengers and setting fire to the wing close to the fuel tanks.
Those on board had a lucky escape because the pilots’ night vision goggles were temporarily blinded by the explosions and the burning aircraft veered off the runway at more than 100mph.
Commanders decided they could not secure the hostile area of Maysan Province long enough to repair the badly- damaged Hercules and it was blown up to stop it falling into enemy hands.
The Board’s findings congratulate RAF officials on their “well-reasoned” cover-up of the incident last February, lying to the media and the public to minimise interest and ‘denying the enemy the opportunity to exploit the situation’ for propaganda purposes.
The report highlights the way insurgents were able to sneak up to the airstrip in south-eastern Iraq – which was in regular use by the RAF supplying ground forces – and to plant five bombs next to the touch- down point. These were missed by soldiers who ‘cleared’ the site ready for the Hercules to land.
A similar RAF aircraft had been shot down by insurgents north of Baghdad in January 2005, with the loss of all ten servicemen aboard.
On that occasion insurgent groups issued grim footage of the wreckage, boasting of their success. The MoD was anxious to avoid another enemy propaganda coup.
The losses have put pressure on the remaining Hercules aircraft, which are supporting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and have led to problems with maintaining parachute training for the Army.
The Board of Inquiry report describes the drama as the Hercules was riddled with shrapnel from the blast, knocking out key equipment on the flight deck. One soldier on board was only saved from serious injury by his body armour.
All the soldiers and RAF crew scrambled out of the burning aircraft and huddled in the dark, trying to contact their commanders.
Another Hercules offered to pick them up, and then lost radio contact-The pilot opted to land anyway-not knowing the runway was littered with debris and flanked by 5ft-deep bomb craters. The second aircraft was damaged on landing but able to recover those on the ground and take off again.
The report says British forces were at fault for “pattern setting” in the way they used the airstrip, helping insurgents predict where and when the Hercules would land.
Group Captain Paul Atherton, station commander of the Hercules fleet at RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire, praised the crew of both aircraft for responding “quickly and decisively.”
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