Mother Says She Wants Confirmation Lessons Have Been Learned After Series Of Errors Allowed Unfit Pilot Fly Plane
The mother of a 15-year-old air cadet who died in a mid-air collision after RAF doctors allowed his instructor to fly with a serious medical condition has called for confirmation that improvements have been made to medical check-ups after receiving a settlement from the MoD.
Nicholas Rice, from Calcot, Reading, was taking part in an air experience flight with Flight Lieutenant Mike Blee, 62, when their Grob 115E light aircraft collided with a glider before nose-diving to the ground in Drayton, Abingdon. Both passengers in the light aircraft were killed in the accident while the glider pilot parachuted to safety.
Nicholas’ mother, Julia Rice, instructed specialist Armed Forces Lawyers at MPH Solicitors, part of the Irwin Mitchell Group, to investigate as she sought answers over her son’s death.
Expert lawyer Geraldine McCool represented the family at an inquest in 2012 at which a jury found that there were a series of failures by the RAF which contributed to his death. His flight instructor had a pre-existing condition which left his spine so brittle that a leading medical expert said it could snap at any moment causing instant death. Despite this an RAF doctor, who was under GMC restrictions at the time, ticked a box confirming that Flight Lt Blee’s spine was normal and passed him as fit to fly.
The condition, ankylosing spondylitis (AS), also restricted the pilots head and neck movement making it difficult for him to look all around the aircraft while flying and the inquest heard that he was excluded from parachute training in 1976 due to the impact it may have on his spine.
Following an admission of liability by the MoD for Nicholas’ death, MPH Solicitors secured a settlement for the family but lawyers and his mother Julia have hit out at their treatment at the hands of the armed forces after the MoD attempted to dodge the case based on technicalities over time limits.
Geraldine McCool, a Partner and Head of the Armed Forces Team at MPH Solicitors and Irwin Mitchell, said:
Expert OpinionThe failures in this tragic case are totally unacceptable and raise serious questions about the checks given to flying instructors.
Julia is also disappointed in how she was treated following the accident when the MoD raised a technical argument on time limits that is untested in the Courts in order to say that the claim could not be brought.
“Julia was naturally distraught at losing her son and we were determined to gain answers for her and the rest of the family as to how he died. She was simply staggered by the systemic failures which allowed the Flight Lt to take control of the aircraft that day in his condition putting their lives in danger. She now demand to know what has been done to improve the process and prevent this happening again.
“To allow someone to fly with a 50 per cent reduction in the rotation of his head, along with the risk of spine fracture from a high impact collision, was quite simply reckless. Had the pilot not had this condition then even after impact he could have made attempts to recover from the nosedive but unfortunately the crash was found to have been unsurvivable because it is likely that the pilot was killed instantly at the point of collision. The collision was otherwise survivable which has been one of the most difficult features for Julia.” Geraldine McCool - Consultant
A series of failures were identified at the inquest including:
- Flight Lt Blee had not been seen by a specialist rheumatologist since 1999 which breached RAF guidelines
- Some medical records failed to mention his condition and even recorded a normal spine
- RAF personnel from previous flights with Flight Lt Blee had expressed concern on his ability to carry out effective lookouts but the comments were found to have been watered down by another colleague who had not flown with him
- The abandonment training for cadets prior to flying was inadequate.
In March 2014 a Fitness to Practice Panel of the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service sitting in Manchester considered the evidence given at the Inquest and was of the view that Dr Wyper had “a blatant disregard for the importance of the information” on the CAA forms and “the potential consequences of the misleading information” he provided for Patient A and the public safety at large. The Panel concluded that this behaviour constituted serious misconduct.
Nicholas’ Mother Julia Rice, from Reading, said: I was at home when I was told that the aircraft my son had been flying in as a Cadet had crashed and he had been killed.
“Nicholas was kind and generous and was extremely well liked. He was also very talented, excelled at many things and his dream was to become an Aeronautical Engineer with the RAF and I have no doubt that he would have succeeded.
“His Grandfather and Great Uncle were both in the RAF, something that we as a family were very proud of and it is devastating that we will not be able to see Nicholas take up a position he would no doubt have loved and thrived in.
“As parents we tried to help him pursue his passions and that one of them ultimately took his life leaves me distraught. Without him it doesn’t matter what success I achieve in my life, nor how happy I manage to be, it will only ever be second best.
“I agreed that Nicholas could fly in the complete understanding that the RAF knew what they were doing and would take care of him, otherwise I would never have signed any documents. My belief now is that the RAF failed my son and cost him his life.
“My own father suffered from Ankylosing Spondylitis, so I am aware of what it is like to live with this condition. If had known that my son would be flying with someone with such severe difficulties I never would have allowed it.
“I’m also astounded by the obstacles placed in our path whilst trying to recover all the details about what went wrong and think it shows a total lack of care by the MoD. They did not even acknowledge dates sent to them by MPH for a settlement meeting, let alone agree to attend, in spite of telling a Judge they would do so. They told us they were going to make an offer but then delayed for 10 months on this. Nothing will ever bring Nicholas back but hopefully now lessons will be learnt to prevent any further suffering for others.”
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