Clutha helicopter pilot was safe pair of hands, inquiry told

The pilot of a helicopter which crashed on to the roof of a pub, killing 10 people, has been described as “a safe pair of hands” at an inquiry into the disaster.

Pilot David Traill died along with crew members Tony Collins and Kirsty Nelis when the aircraft crashed at the Clutha Vaults in Glasgow on November 29, 2013.

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

Alistair Rennie, a police air observer and colleague of those in the helicopter, told the fatal accident inquiry (FAI) on Friday that Mr Traill was the kind of man who would not look to do a job any way “other than how it was supposed to be done”.

When asked by Donald Findlay QC, representing the family of one of the victims, whether the pilot was a stickler for the rules or was “gung-ho”, Mr Rennie said: “Stickler, I would say so.”

Mr Findlay asked why, to which he replied: “He was a safe pair of hands, is how I would describe him… Certainly not one who would cut corners.”

Glasgow helicopter crash
David Traill was the pilot of the aircraft when it crashed in November 2013 (Police Scotland/PA)

He also agreed with Mr Findlay’s assessment of the crew’s experience in the helicopter – as had previously been discussed with another colleague appearing as a witness at the FAI – saying Mr Collins had more experience than Ms Nelis, but she was not inexperienced.

The inquiry has previously heard five fuel warnings appeared before the helicopter crashed.

Mr Rennie was asked about how these warnings would be discussed by the crew, agreeing when Mr Findlay asked if conversation would be more casual than when a pilot would be speaking to air traffic control – as Mr Traill did twice before the crash.

Mr Findlay said: “I’m trying to understand what the atmosphere in the cockpit would be like. You wouldn’t have ignored that (fuel warning), would you?”

The police constable replied: “No, I wouldn’t.”

He was then asked if he would “require some satisfying explanation from the pilot if he was ignoring” the warnings.

Mr Rennie said: “In answer to your question, if he was ignoring them then yes.”

Donald Findlay
Donald Findlay QC is representing the family of one of the victims (Jane Barlow/PA)

Mr Rennie also said the acknowledgement of a warning would be made by either the pilot or the front observer and it “might be fairly quick”.

Being front observer was not a case of seniority over the rear observer, Mr Rennie added, and crew members often took turns in where they would observe from.

The inquiry heard Mr Rennie became a part-time air observer from 2006 and became full-time in 2012.

Sean Smith QC, for the Crown, asked: “Have you ever seen a low fuel warning in your time in the air?”

Mr Rennie said he had not, but had seen it when on the ground before or during checks and did not know if the fuel caution was a frequent indicator.

Sheriff Principal Craig Turnbull asked if he could recall seeing it in his 12 or 13 years of experience, to which Mr Rennie again said “No.”

Mr Rennie was the rear observer in the helicopter on the November 29 day shift before its fatal crash that evening.

Clutha
The inquiry continues at Hampden Park on Monday (Andrew Milligan/PA)

The inquiry was shown a document detailing the flights from that shift, with the first journey from Glasgow to Inverness between 9.05am and 10.15am.

Mr Rennie said this was to refuel at Inverness before going on to a search – with a full tank – at Strathpeffer nearby.

The search took place during the second flight between 10.50am and 12.25pm before landing in Inverness to refuel again.

From there they conducted a short search of Dores, near Loch Ness, before returning to Glasgow at 2.35pm, when Mr Rennie completed paperwork before the end of his shift.

Mr Smith asked: “Were you aware of any defects or anything unusual with the aircraft?”

Mr Rennie replied: “No, I wasn’t.”

He was asked if there had been “any discussion between you and the pilot” about any problems.

Mr Rennie said: “I don’t recall any.”

The inquiry before Mr Turnbull continues at the temporary court at Hampden Park on Monday.

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