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Catterick co-pilot pleads guilty to negligence

Robert Hamilton

6:24pm 15th November 2011
(Updated 12:21pm 16th November 2011)

The co-pilot of an RAF helicopter which crashed in North Yorkshire has pleaded guilty to negligence.

Ex-Flight Lieutenant Robert Hamilton, who was left paraplegic by the incident, was not at the controls of the Puma when it crashed at Catterick Garrison in 2007.

The pilot and two others died.

An earlier inquest found the pilot broke the rules by flying too low while attempting a manoeuvre "beyond his capabilities".
Background information

Ex-Flight Lieutenant Robert Hamilton was aboard a £20m Puma being used to take new army recruits on a troop familiarisation exercise from Catterick Garrison in North Yorkshire on August 8th 2007.

The pilot, 28-year-old Flight Lieutenant David Sale, was killed, along with crew member Sergeant Phillip Burfoot, 27, and new army recruit Private Sean Tait, 17.

The wrecked Puma helicopter which crashed in August 2007

Hamilton was left paraplegic after breaking his spine in the incident and arrived at the military court in Bulford, Wiltshire, in a wheelchair.

He pleaded guilty to a charge of neglect in flying likely to cause loss of life or bodily function.

No details of the offence were heard in court but in 2009 an inquest in Harrogate heard that Flt Lt Sale broke the rules by flying too low while attempting a manoeuvre that was "beyond his capabilities".

Robert Hamilton has pleaded guilty to negligence

North Yorkshire coroner Geoff Fell's summary of the ill-fated exercise revealed how the crew had scared people on the ground by carrying out a series of "dangerous" low-flying stunts.

He concluded that the helicopter crashed at Catterick when the pilot "attempted flying a manoeuvre that was beyond his capabilities or those of the Puma or a combination of both".

The charge stated that Hamilton failed to ensure a trooping exercise was executed in a manner that minimised the risks and hazards to passengers, crew and the public.

It added he had failed to advise the aircraft commander of safety being jeopardised and to offer specific guidance to avoid it.

He faced a further charge of wilful neglect which will stay on file.

Vice Judge Advocate General Michael Hunter ordered Hamilton to return for sentencing on December 16th.

The board - which serves as a jury in court martials - will comprise five RAF officers who will decide Hamilton's sentence in equal weighting with the judge.

Hamilton served with 33 Squadron, based at RAF Bensonin Oxfordshire, but now works as a civilian in the aviation industry.
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