§ Mr. Burden (by Private Notice)
asked the Minister of State for Defence if he will make a statement about the Hercules C 130 transport plane that crashed into the sea off the coast of Italy this morning.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force (Mr. Antony Lambton)
It is with great regret that I have to inform the House that shortly after 5 o'clock this morning a Hercules aircraft of the R.A.F. taking part in an exercise in the Mediterranean crashed into the sea some 20 miles from Pisa while en route to Sardinia. Five R.A.F. crew members, one British parachute jumping instructor and 45 Italian Army personnel were on board. A search was mounted immediately and is continuing; wreckage has been sighted and some bodies recovered; no survivors have so far been reported. An R.A.F. team of investigators will shortly fly to Italy for joint investigation with the Italian military authorities of the cause of the accident. My right hon. and noble Friend is sending a message of sympathy to the Italian Minister of Defence. I am sure that the House would wish to join me in an expression of sympathy to the next of kin at this difficult time.
§ Mr. Burden
The whole House will be grateful to my hon. Friend for the 832 messages of sympathy he has sent and expressed to those who have suffered loss.
Will my hon. Friend make a further statement when the investigation has been concluded? How many Hercules aircraft are currently in service with the British forces? What is their accident record? Have there been any serious accidents prior to this tragedy?
§ Mr. Lambton
I shall certainly be prepared to make a statement to the House after the inquiry has been carried out. Sixty-six Hercules have been in service since 1966-67. This is the second accident which has involved any loss of life.
§ Mr. George Thomson
Will the Minister accept that we on this side wish to be associated with the expressions of sympathy with the bereaved, of both the British and the Italian Service men, in this terrible disaster?
Will the hon. Gentleman in his inquiries bear in mind that two years ago Questions were asked in the House about this aircraft and, in particular, about corrosion in its petrol tanks? Will he make inquiries to ensure that the action that was promised then has been thoroughly carried out?
§ Mr. Lambton
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his expressions of sympathy. I will certainly look into the point he raised. Two years ago there was a problem about some corrosion of fuel tanks. All aircraft were put through a thorough engineering programme to rectify this fault.