Fuel pump modifications could have prevented Clutha crash, inquiry told

Modifications to a fuel transfer pump in a helicopter could have prevented it from crashing on the roof of a pub and killing 10 people, an engineer has claimed.

David Price was the director of engineering at the aircraft’s operators Bond when the crash happened at the Clutha Vaults pub in Glasgow on November 29, 2013.

Pilot David Traill died in the crash along with helicopter crew members Tony Collins and Kirsty Nelis.

Pub customers Mark O’Prey, Gary Arthur, John McGarrigle, Colin Gibson, Robert Jenkins, Samuel McGhee and Joe Cusker also died.

In April 2014, Mr Price moved to become head of maintenance and engineering at Babcock.

Peter Gray, representing Babock at a fatal accident inquiry (FAI) into the crash, asked Mr Price for his assistance to the inquiry.

Mr Gray said: “Do you have any thoughts from an engineering perspective how the risk of human error can be removed when red low fuel warnings come on?”

Considering a report from the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB), Mr Price replied he believed it was possible to “effectively wire or trigger a power supply” to automatically keep the forward transfer pump on after a low fuel warning.

Sheriff Principal Craig Turnbull asked if there was the possibility this would fail, to which Mr Price said: “I accept it could… it’s not a perfect solution.”

Mr Gray asked if it was better than what was in place at the moment.

Mr Price said: “Had it been in place for this accident, I suggest it would have prevented it.”

Roddy Dunlop QC, representing manufacturers Airbus, further probed the engineer on the issue.

Roddy Dunlop QC
Roddy Dunlop QC

He said: “What if the pump was blocked? What if you need to turn the pumps off because in some situations turning them on is dangerous?

“If one had a situation where the pump was automatically on it would only create more problems, would it not?”

Mr Price said: “Not if it was protected.”

When Mr Dunlop told him he was “advocating a system to this inquiry”, Mr Price replied: “I’m not a human factors expert.”

Mr Price also suggested an early version of software included a change of colour in the fuel display (from blue to yellow) when the fuel pumps were turned off.

However Mr Dunlop asked: “Are you aware the change was made because of customer complaints?”

Mr Price replied “no”, before Mr Dunlop further explained the colour change was designed out because altitude changes to an aircraft would be repetitive, meaning the display would constantly be changing.

Clutha bar
Clutha bar

Earlier on Thursday, Mr Price was asked by Donald Findlay QC, representing the families of one of the victims, if he could recall when it was first established that water might enter the fuel system of the aircraft during washing.

Mr Price said it was in 2003.

Mr Findlay then asked that if there were checks in place before a wash, why were there none after.

The engineer explained they were primarily looking for water such as rain in the system, with a time period long enough for possible routes or sources of water to settle in the bottom of the fuel tank.

Mr Findlay asked: “If somebody says it might came in a compressor wash, why not check before and after? If I’m not being too simplistic.”

He then suggested “nobody had thought of it”, to which Mr Price replied: “That’s not what I said.”

The inquiry was also shown an email from Mr Price to helicopter manufacturers Eurocopter in which he expressed being “extremely unhappy” over the issue.

The inquiry, before Mr Turnbull, continues at Hampden Park on Friday.