HC Deb 04 March 1964 vol 690 cc1306-9
43. Mr. Lee

asked the Minister of Aviation whether he will make a statement on the Innsbruck air disaster.

Mr. Marten

As the House will know, a Britannia aircraft of British Eagle International Airlines crashed during the approach to Innsbruck Airport on 29th February, 1964. It was on a scheduled service with a crew of eight and seventy-five passengers. None of those on board survived.

Under international agreement, responsibility for the investigation of this accident rests with the Austrian Government. My right hon. Friend has appointed an inspector of accidents to be the accredited representative of the United Kingdom at this inquiry: he flew out immediately. The Austrian Accident Commission has issued an interim report. The House will not expect me to comment in detail at this stage on the accident until we have received the final report.

I am sure, Mr. Speaker, that the House will wish to join me in expressing sympathy with the bereaved, and our thanks to all who under the most difficult mountain conditions sought the wrecked aircraft in the hope that there might be survivors. In addition our thanks are due to the United States Air Force for sending the specially equipped aircraft which first located the wreckage; and to other aircraft engaged in the search and to the Austrian Accidents Commission which is investigating the accident.

Mr. Lee

Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware that we on this side of the House would wish to be associated with his remarks about the bereaved and the assistance received from other people? The hon. Gentleman mentioned the interim report. Is he aware that I at any rate regret the publication of this report, because it would appear from what Dr. Rudolf Walch has said that it is purely a preliminary report and that the evidence is quite provisional? It seems to us a most unusual procedure that after a very short inquiry this should have been done, and Dr. Walch himself agrees that the full report cannot be ready for some months. Since the report seems to condemn the human element involved, some of us would not accept that condemnation unless we are given far greater proof than we now have.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the whole House would like to feel that there was now to be a British inquiry into this accident? Does he realise that a great many questions remain to be answered, although I will not go into them today, and that the House and the country would feel more comforted if we could have a purely British inquiry, in which a total investigation could take place?

Mr. Marten

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his association with the remarks I made about the tragedy. As regards the interim report, I sincerely note the views he has expressed, but I am sure that it would be wrong for me to express an opinion on the action of a foreign Government or a department of a foreign Government. As regards the public inquiry, I certainly note what he has said and will consider this when I have the final report available.

Mr. Stratton Mills

Will my hon. Friend say a word about the radar requirements for British aircraft? Is there any international agreement covering radar facilities at airports?

Mr. Marten

I understand that the plane was equipped with radar, but I have no information as to whether it was being used.

Mr. Woodburn

As one point has become clear arising out of the accident—that it is possible for altimeters to be misread or to vary slightly with climatic conditions—would the Parliamentary Secretary in the meantime set up an inquiry to see whether a more modern type of altimeter, which can be clearly seen by the pilot, should be installed in all passenger aircraft as soon as possible and the old ones eliminated?

Mr. Marten

I will certainly go into that question, but I cannot give the right hon. Gentleman an answer now.

Mr. Lubbock

While not wishing to press the hon. Gentleman into making any comments now on the actions of a foreign Government, may I ask him if it is the usual practice to issue a preliminary report based on the flimsiest of evidence at such an early moment in the course of an inquiry? Would it not have been better to have waited, since this report apparently casts some reflection on the action of the people involved?

Mr. Marten

As I said, it is not for me to comment on whether it would have been better for the Austrian Government to wait, but I can say that we in this country, when we make an accident report, do not issue an interim report in this way.

Mr. Rankin

In view of the difficulty that always crops up with these accidents of collecting reliable information, does this not once again emphasise the fact that it would be immensely useful if these machines carried small computers?

Mr. Marten

This machine was very fully equipped. Indeed, it was only fairly recently purchased from B.O.A.C. It had a great amount of equipment of that nature in it.