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A soldier has been awarded a substantial figure in compensation for mental stress suffered as a result of an RAF pilot allowing a personal camera to interfere with the flight controls of a passenger-carrying Voyager en-route from Brize to Camp Bastion in 2014.

A court heard how Flt Lt Andrew Townshend had been using a camera in the cockpit while his co-pilot went for a brew. For reasons not fully understood, the camera became stuck between the armrest on his seat and the joy-stick and forcing the aircraft’s manual controls to override the auto-pilot,sending the plane into a 4,500ft dive before it was brought under control. The dive was so steep that a number of the 187 pax on board were injured, with some hitting the roof as they effectively became weightless. Some accounts talk about the extraordinary efforts of the co-pilot (who had sustained a serious spinal injury), having to crawl along the roof to get back to the cockpit before regaining control of the aircraft.

According to the soldier’s legal representative he had to leave the Army because:

“As a result of the sudden and unexpected dive, Soldier B was thrown around and suffered soft tissue injuries. More significantly, he suffered serious psychological injuries amounting to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a Depressive Episode, a Phobic Anxiety Disorder and a Specific Anxiety Disorder. Despite prolonged treatment he continues to suffer ongoing anxiety.”

The prosecutor, Nigel Lickley QC, informed the court martial that the pilot’s actions had cost the RAF almost a million pounds. This included £207,000 for repairs to the Voyager, and £827,000 for civilian aircraft chartered to replace Voyager fleet while they were grounded pending safety checks.

The pilot was given a four-months in prison, suspended for 12 months, and was dismissed from the service.

The MOD has apparently reserved judgement on the ruling, saying: ““We carefully consider all claims and pay compensation where we have a legal obligation to do so. As litigation is currently ongoing, it would be inappropriate to comment further.”

Flt Lt Townshend’s career has effectively been ruined as a result of a momentary lapse after he admitted to being “bored”. It is a prime example of “There but for the grace of God go I”, and many of us will have similar tales to tell – except that we somehow “got away with it”. It is also an example of how, if something can go wrong, it probably will. It might sound a bit sanctimonious, but perhaps the most important aspect of this is to take on board the lessons, follow the drills –  and not leave things to chance. Ed.

Image: RAF Crown copyright

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