HC Deb 24 May 1971 vol 818 cc29-31

Mr. Leslie Huckfield (by Private Notice) asked the Minister for Trade whether he would make a statement about the Yugoslav air disaster.

The Minister for Trade (Mr. Michael Noble)

A Tupalev 134A aircraft, operated by Aviogenex, a Yugoslav company, on a flight from Gatwick, crashed on the approach to Rijeka airport on the Adriatic island of Krk at 1955 hours G.M.T. yesterday. There was a major fire and 73 British passengers lost their lives, of whom 28 were men, 35 women and 10 children. Three Yugoslav passengers and three Yugoslav stewards were also killed, but four other crew members and a courier escaped with injuries.

The Yugoslav authorities have set up a Commission of Investigation, and Mr. Stewart, the British Ambassador to Yugoslavia, has accompanied the President of the Commission to the site of the accident. Because the aircraft crashed in Yugoslavia and was registered there, and had been manufactured in the Soviet Union, the investigation of the accident is a matter for the Yugoslav authorities. The Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation 1944, Annex 13, does not give us a right to take part, but, contrary to what may appear from some of the newspapers, it does not prevent our doing so. In fact, we have offered to assist and the Yugoslav authorities have agreed that two members of our Accident Investigation Branch may attend as observers. Two Inspectors of Accidents are now on their way to Rijeka.

Her Majesty has asked that her condolences should be sent to the relatives of those who have lost their lives. A message of condolence has been received from the Yugoslav Director General of Civil Aviation, for which I would like to express my gratitude. I know the House will wish to join me in expressing our deepest sympathy with the relatives of all who have lost their lives in this disaster.

Mr. Huckfield

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that information. I am sure the whole House would wish to be associated with his expressions of sympathy. While it is far too early to conjecture about the cause of the accident, may I ask him whether he can give any further information about contact which he has had with the Yugoslav authorities and when he expects the report to be published in this country?

Mr. Noble

As the hon. Gentleman said, it is too early to speculate on the causes of the accident. We have been in touch with the Yugoslav authorities, and, as I told the House, they have agreed that our accident investigators should take part in investigating what happened. Until a little more is known, it is difficult to say when the report will be available.

Mr. Mason

May I associate my right hon. and hon. Friends with the Minister's expression of sympathy to all those who have lost friends and relatives in this tragic accident, particularly when one realises that a highly qualified pilot, a modern aircraft and a modern airport were involved? I hope that he will be prepared to offer the full services of his highly experienced accident and safety branch to the Yugoslavs if they require them for the accident inquiry as distinct from the observers.

May I add a word of thanks to Yugo-tours, which acted so promptly and sympathetically in making a flight immediately available for the relatives of those involved in the accident? It is only small consolation, but it means so much to them.

Mr. Noble

I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman said about Yugo-tours' very prompt action. It is a small consolation, but it was a right and proper thing to have done. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that if the Yugoslav Government ask for help from any of our inspectors in connection with this tragic accident it will be made available.