HC Deb 01 February 1956 vol 548 cc909-11
48. Mr. Grimond

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation if he will make a statement on the finding of salt water in a British European Airways Viscount refuelled at Gibraltar.

51. Mr. Beswick

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation in what circumstances the Viscount airliner flying from Gibraltar to London on 2nd January forced-landed in France; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Profumo

Yes, Sir; since this incident occurred it has been established that the fuel taken on board at Gibraltar was contaminated with sea water. When the Viscount was 70 miles west of Bordeaux, flying at 21,000 feet, No. I engine failed followed by No. 2 and shortly No. 4. The crew took emergency action and it appeared that a ditching operation would have to be made. Through the able assistance from the French Air Traffic Control authorities, the captain, who displayed the highest standards of airmanship, was able to make a landing at the military airfield at Cazaux.

Mr. Grimond

I am sure the House will join with the Minister in what he has said about the captain's skill and courage in making a forced landing. Can the hon. Gentleman assure us that there will be a full inquiry into how this affair arose, and will he also say whether this is not almost a unique event in the history of British airlines and is certainly not likely to be repeated?

Mr. Profumo

I can assure the House that there is every likelihood that there will not be a recurrence of that type of incident. British European Airways and the petroleum company have taken most careful steps since the incident occurred. A report, which is, of course, primarily the responsibility of the Corporation, will be sent by the Chairman to my right hon. Friend for him to study.

Mr. Beswick

While I have no doubt that the Minister will study the report with the greatest interest, is it not a fact that the crew of the aircraft displayed most outstanding skill and presence of mind? Might I suggest that it would not be inappropriate to make some recognition of their achievement?

Mr. Profumo

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman joins me in the words that I uttered in my original reply. This is a matter for the Chairman and Board of the Corporation, in the first instance at any rate.

Mr. Woodburn

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that this is a matter far beyond the mere concern of the Corporation? It is a matter of great public interest to know that an investigation is being made and that steps will be taken to prevent such an incident occurring in future. The public will want to know exactly how the incident occurred.

Mr. Profumo

I can only repeat that my right hon. Friend recognises his overriding responsibilities for safety, and it is for that reason that Lord Douglas will furnish him with a full report which he will study with the greatest care when it arrives.

Mr. Dudley Williams

While I agree with hon. Members who have paid tribute to the captain of the aircraft, is my hon. Friend satisfied with the inquiry by the Corporation? Does he not think that it is a matter which should be investigated by the Criminal Investigation Department?

Mr. Profumo

No, Sir; I do not think so. The facts seems to be fairly clear. I ought perhaps to add that B.E.A. has suspended its engineer at Gibraltar because, having discovered that contamination was present, he failed to follow B.E.A.'s instructions about action to be taken when fuel contamination is discovered.

Mr. Woodburn

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the public will want some report? If Lord Douglas is not able to publish his report, will the hon. Gentleman ensure that the public gets some report when the investigation is completed?

Mr. Profumo

If there were any overriding reason why my right hon. Friend felt that he should make a further statement, he would of course do so, but it would not preclude Lord Douglas from making some statement on behalf of the Corporation. I hope the House will allow us to leave the matter there, because it is at present under consideration.

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